The Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of a seven game road swing. On their way to the east coast, they defeated the New Orleans Hornets and the Memphis Grizzlies pretty handily. Despite those victories, the real test for L.A. begins tonight as they look to split their season series with the Boston Celtics at TD Garden at 8 o’clock est. on TNT.
Besides Kobe dropping 41 pts, the Lakers looked lifeless in their 13 point defeat at home to Boston in the their previous meeting. The Boston loss, coupled with an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the last place Sacramento Kings two nights earlier, sparked debate whether the two-time defending world champions were in need of some new blood. Magic Johnson called them “old.” Jerry West said they couldn’t play defense.
These statements, along with GM Mitch Kupchak admitting the team was not living up to expectations, sparked rumors of a possible dismantling of the repeat champs. One rumor had Ron Artest demanding a trade, which was quickly put to rest by Ron Artest himself and the Lakers management. Still, multiple outlets reported the Lakers exploring a possible trade with the Charlotte Bobcats possibly for small forward Gerald Wallace. Earlier in the week, it was rumored the Lakers and Nuggets were discussing a possible deal sending Andrew Bynum to the Nuggets for Carmelo Anthony. Wins in three out of their last four, including two straight on the road, have toned down the rumor mill for the time being.
Still, the next three games will decide the future of the Los Angeles Lakers. If the Lakers somehow lose their next three – all on the road, all against playoff-caliber teams and all on national television, then L.A. will be in all out panic-mode. Why panic over three measly games in the season? It is just 3 out 81. Look at the big picture! Let’s look at the next three opponents. All three have different styles and all three could expose the Lakers weaknesses.
Boston Celtics: Intimidation
Boston’s starting lineup boasts 4 All-Stars and are anchored defensively by Kevin Garnett, who has been getting into everyones head lately. Spike Lee recently said he needed to “Calm the **** down.” They are number one in points allowed giving up a stingy 91.5 points a game. Tonight, they will be without their two centers, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal, both out with foot and knee injuries respectively. That will hurt their ability to pound and intimidate the Lakers tonight as they will need their front court backups, Glen Davis and Semih Erden to stay in the game and log additional minutes. They will play major roles in shutting down the 7-foot duo of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum tonight.
Ray Allen is one three-pointer away from tying Reggie Miller as the NBA’s all-time leader in three pointers made with 2,560. He will likely get the record tonight against the Lakers. The crowd will be loud. How will the Lakers respond?
New York Knicks: Run and Gun
Raymond Felton was having an all-star caliber season until two weeks ago when his jumper all but disappeared. He has been playing better again lately and Amare Stoudemire has been a leader on and off the court for the suddenly fun to watch Knicks. Felton and Amare will likely try to expose the Lakers defensively by employing large amounts of pick and rolls. The Knicks will also try to out run the Lakers forcing their two big men to sprint up and down the floor. If Kobe begins to play the Knicks style – taking forced jumpers and fadeaways and the majority of the team’s shots – the Lakers could be in for a frustrating game. Wilson Chandler is battling an ankle injury as well as trade rumors and his play has come back down to earth somewhat. The Knicks are fun to watch and will be another good test for the Lakers.
Orlando: Spread the Floor
The Magic are without power forward Brandon Bass, who will be out until after the all-star break due to a foot injury. They have inserted three point gunner Ryan Anderson into the starting lineup at the power forward spot, allowing for four 3-point threats on the floor along with center Dwight Howard. How will the Lakers handle a lineup of Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, Ryan Anderson and Dwight Howard patrolling the middle. Does Ron Artest have the legs to run out on the Magic’s shooters if they double Howard. Last night against the Sixers, the Magic attempted 26 threes making 10. If the Lakers double down on Howard they will be forced to rotate to the open man including the power forward, which puts pressure defensively on Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Unlike the Knicks, the Magic are a deep team with championship aspirations following two big in-season trades.
The Magic will be another good barometer for GM Mitch Kupchak and coach Phil Jackson. Expect a team assessment following these next three games.