I am a revived Laker fan. After the Kobe-Shaq Lakers broke up in 2004, I lost interest in the NBA. Apart from the fact that our cable services only showed selected NBA games that did not always include a Laker game, the Kobe-led Lakers, seemed anemic. Mihm, Odom, Smush Parker and Walton weren't a strong backup to a Kobe that was yet immature to lead the Lakers. But with the addition of Pau Gasol, the return of Derek Fisher, the coming-of-age of Andrew Bynum, and the emergence of an older and wiser Kobe Bryant, the Lakers became more interesting.
The Lakers are now gunning for their third Championship ring. This is going to be a Kobe-led three-peat if it is going to materialize. The best thing about this three-peat is that it is going to be played out in a context where the Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics, the Oklahome Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs have consciously prepared themselves to prevent it. The degree of difficulty in this year's Laker championship quest is evident in the NBA rankings to date: the Spurs and the Celtics are on top of the field with the Lakers sharing almost identical records with the Heat.
But the Lakers have been slowly building themselves up for the summer. I think that the key to another championship will be the way the following players will perform. I am not thinking of Kobe or Pau or Lamar, or even D-Fish. It is hard to imagine a Laker team that will go to the finals without these players. I am thinking of the supporting cast -- those who will step up when the starters cannot function.
Last year's Game 7 hero against Boston seems to be in a slump this year. But maybe it is just because of his extra-NBA commitments. He is committed to the cause of mental health especially among children and has, in relation to this, put out his Championship ring in auction. He is also a rapper and has his own record label, Tru Warier.
I first watched Ron Artest as an Indiana Pacer. Back then, he was both an offensive and defensive threat. He was hot-headed too and incapable of controlling his anger. The brawl at Auburn Hills was a direct result of that. After that notorious basketbrawl, he got traded to Sacramento where he continued to play at both offensive and defensive ends. After some time with the Houston Rockets, the Lakers signed him up and helped Kobe and Co. get their back-to-back championship in 2009-2010.
Right now, Ron Ron has been modest in his contributions to the Laker cause. Sparks of former brilliance showed up in games against the Pacers (at Conseco) and the Raptors (Air Canada). But Ron Ron remains his amiable self. I'd like to see him in games against Miami (Dec. 25), San Antonio (Dec. 2 and New Orleans (Dec. 29).
The Killer B's
The Killer B's are of course Blake, Brown and Barnes. But since Andrew Bynum, coming off surgery, is not starting you might as well add him to the group. In fact, this group killed the Raptors recently.
Shannon Brown was known as a spectacular dunker when he played for Cleveland. He was a co-MVP of LeBron James while they were in high school. This season, he has come off the bench with a new weapon, the three-point shot. He has been subbing for Kobe Bryant, and barring any injuries, may still prove to be the Most Improved Player in the Laker bench, if not in the whole of the NBA.
Steve Blake isn't a flashy player, but he is sure a heady point-guard with an arsenal of shots. He is an able sub for Derek Fisher, and seems to be comfortable in the Triangle. What Jordan Farmar could not supply, Steve Blake is now giving to the Lakers. He has a good three-point shot and distributes the ball well.
Matt Barnes is another lock-down defender with a mean shooting arm. He, together with Blake, were signed up by Mitch Kupchak to help in the Laker quest for a three-peat this year.
After missing 24 games this year, Andrew Bynum finally started playing against the Washington Wizards. His presence was immediately felt as Pau Gasol finally was able to rest. In his most recent appearance against the Raptors, the Bynumite scored 16 points and grabbed 7 rebounds to help the Lakers to another win. The Lakers are 4-0 with him on the court.
The newest Laker is Joe Smith. He was the 1995 first draft pick, but since then has played for more than a dozen NBA teams. The Lakers got him from the Nets in a trade that involved Laker pretty boy Vujacic. I am interested in him because he seems to be an all-around player that never really had the chance to blossom in the NBA. He might play in the game against the Bucks on Dec. 21.
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