After what feels like eons, the Lakers are once again playing games at Staples Center. This evening's guests are the Bobcats of Charlotte, a squad yet to make the postseason since their inception five seasons ago. Or even craft a winning record.
Except, of course, against the Lakers.
Despite a low ceiling for overall success and never featuring an All-Star until Gerald Wallace's recent nod, the Cats have consistently found success against the defending champs. Charlotte's come out on top during five of the last six meetings and sport an impressive 6-4 clip against the Lakers in their short history.
It's somewhat perplexing to put a finger on, since constant roster turnover and injuries have made it difficult establish and build on a pattern (outside of the wins, of course.) Continuity is an often huge asset, and Charlotte hasn't enjoyed much. Thus, I dropped by Bobcats practice yesterday and asked Wallace and Ray Felton --the two longest tenured Cats-- for their perspective on the keys to this run of success.
Not too surprisingly, few specifics were offered from their side, either. Aside from just matching up well, Wallace and Felton mostly focused on how hard they tend to play against the Lakers, effort often as crucial a commodity as talent. Like many squads across the NBA, something about a date with the purple and gold brings out the scrap in Charlotte.
I was also struck by Felton's comments on his matchup with Derek Fisher:
- "Derek Fisher is a vet who really don't look to score no more like he used to. He's just a guy that hits big shots. He's the leader of the team. That's pretty much the matchup between me and him. He's the guy that hits big shots and he really runs that team. Everybody talks about Kobe (Bryant), but really, he's the key to that team."
Does that make him harder to defend than people may realize?
- "Yeah, because he always hits big shots. He may not score the whole game. They could call a play for him in the last minute and he'll hit a big three for you. That's just the type of player he is. You can't relax on him. Not at all."
Interesting take, given Fisher's struggles this season. Whether you're into traditional stats or more newfangled metrics, anyway you slice it, the veteran's numbers are down. Way down. Even for somebody with a career spent streak-shooting, the guy hasn't been particularly reliable from the field, an issue even more pronounced by some spotty shot selection.
For all the talk about old legs making him unable to track quick guards-- there's no question Fisher's decreased PT of late is due to sometimes getting dusted-- Brian and I both think he's hurting the Lakers much more on offense.
Still, from Felton, a respect factor remains, a benefit of the doubt created through season upon season of coming through. Reputations die hard. Hopefully, in the case of Fish and the Lakers, they can also provide an ace in the hole capable of making a player more dangerous than his limitations might otherwise prevent.
A few more thoughts on the Bobcats
-With Tyson Chandler (to the best of my knowledge) unlikely to play, the Bobcats count on Nazr Mohammed, Desagana Diop and --I guess-- Boris Diaw to protect the paint. All three are decent defenders, but pitted against Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, it's "Advantage: Lakers." Particularly since the first two won't require Bynum or Gasol to expend much energy guarding them, meaning the Lakers frontcourt should remain fresh for battle.
All PushTheBallInsideMore-Gate issues aside, what say we push the ball inside, kids?
-With that lack of size, it stands to reason Charlotte doesn't block a ton of shots. They do, however, get blocked an awful lot, so opportunities await the Laker bigs on both ends of the court. Having said that, the Cats among the best in the league at collecting steals, so carelessness must be avoided.
-While still a Warrior during the preseason, Stephen Jackson had an absolute meltdown against the Lakers in the preseason. As in, the kind where you leave the bench after screaming at Don Nelson for being left on the floor to pick up FIVE first quarter fouls, then literally leave the building with the game still in progress.
But beyond what he deemed mistreatment by his coach (Nellie mess with a player's head? Get outta town!), Jax took exception to being referred to as "young fella" by Kobe Bryant, whose time on Earth began four months after the mercurial small forward's. This led to a series of strange comments from Jackson reminding people he's "a grown man" and his eventual relocation to North Carolina. Some may recall Kobe garnering a similar reaction from Raja "Do I know this kid?" Bell back in '06. For whatever reason, some NBA players don't like being viewed as anything less than a legal adult.
Thus, were I Bryant, Odom (a creative sort with a knack for words) or anybody else liable to spend some time matched with Jackson, I'd be deciding whether to call Jax "wittle guy," "tyke," "junior," or whatever else struck my fancy. My point? Jackson is a hothead easily provoked and the Lakers should milk that.