No doubt, Thursday's and Friday's back-to-back games against the Heat and Magic represent the biggest test for the Lakers this young season. Between the quality of competition (even if Dwyane Wade's leg issues shelve him, Miami remains a formidable opponent), the recurring issue of fatigue and the Lakers' issues while battling outside Staples, a split would be a quality showing, and an undefeated clip in Florida would be quite the reason for cheers. And among the players made available made available Tuesday in El Segundo (an admittedly small sample size), this road trip serves as a legitimate gauge for where the Lakers currently stand at the moment, even for a veteran team with 17 rings between them.
"It's been one of those tough back-to-backs that I think multiple teams have faced throughout the years," said Derek Fisher. "It's similar to, over the years, you have a Dallas-San Antonio back-to-back. You have to play those back-to-backs within regions. They're just tough. They're two of the better teams, not just in the Eastern Conference, but in the NBA as a whole. And when you combine that with our struggles on the road, it presents two good tests for us."
No argument from Andrew Bynum, who labeled the games "good measuring tools for us."
"We can definitely see where we're at," added the center. "Hopefully, we can get two wins ... We need to get at least one.
Interestingly, when I asked Mike Brown about the measuring stick potential for this Floridian jaunt, he downplayed the possibility.
“I don’t know. No matter who we play, I’m always gonna try to use that game to determine where we are. So, yeah, we’re playing Miami and then Orlando, but we played Dallas [Monday], but because we beat them that doesn’t mean we’re the best team in the West or anything. I think we did some good things and it shows we have a chance to be real good because we were able to execute and do some things positively against the NBA champions. But we still have a ways to go.
“We could lose and do a lot of things right and play well but it just wasn’t our night or something like that. We could win and we could get lucky winning. We could hit shots out of our behind all over the place the whole time, and they could just be off. And I’d be just as hard on our guys if we win a game like that and we didn’t do things the right way on both ends of the floor. I’d be just as tough on them as if we lost.”
Truth be told, Brown's exactly right. The way the team plays is much more important than the actual score in either direction. This squad being a work in progress, progress is in fact the most critical element moving forward, and that's the bottom line, win or lose. Still, it would feel nice to touch down in L.A. with another W or two in the ol' back pocket.
In the meantime, for Drew, there's the test within the test. Friday pits him against Dwight Howard, an exceptionally juicy matchup among centers even if the world wasn't speculating 24/7 whether the two will eventually be swapped out for each other. No doubt, the battle at the 5 will garner oodles of eyes, along with non-stop comparisons between Jim Buss' prized pick and Superman. Although, if you ask Bynum himself, there's really no reason for a heated debate, because Dwight's the obvious winner.
"I don't make any comparisons," shrugged Bynum. "The guy is definitely more proven ... so for myself, I always look up to him and want to be able to get the ball and do the things he does with it. I think I learn a lot from watching him play, the way he rim-runs, and gets low and things like that. It's a fun game."
Although not such a raucous affair you lose sight of how difficult the matchup is.
"It's tough," admitted Bynum. "You don't want to get embarrassed, so you have to bring your A-game."
Some Lakers fans may treat Drew tipping his cap Howard's way as a lack of confidence or competitive spirit. Kobe Bryant, for example, would never concede another contemporary as his superior. Frankly, beyond a legend like MJ, Magic, or West, I'm not sure I've ever heard of Kobe referring to anybody as his his equal, much less better, period. (It helps, of course, that there haven't been many, if any, players flat-out better than Kobe upon truly establishing himself.)
However, I wouldn't regard Drew's candidness with disappointment. To me, it simply reflects Drew's standards for himself, which are pretty high. He's routinely more dissatisfied with performances, nearly a given after each game to pick apart something he wasn't happy about. And given his habitual lack of filter, he's much more inclined to give a bluntly honest assessment. Thus, he doesn't cling to the cliche' common among athletes, where it's expressed how they always think they're the best player on the court.
Plus, to be perfectly honest, Drew isn't as proven a player as Howard. Thus, pretending otherwise would sound either delusional or entitled, rather than confident.
Brown also acknowledged his desire to play Kobe fewer minutes if possible. Unfortunately, until the entire roster (and in particular, the second unit) picks up its collective performances, the coach thinks extra run for his superstar is necessary to secure victories. And Bryant is presumably fine with the arrangement, since it helps him maintain a strange hold on Western Conference Player of the Week honors.
And finally, the NBA.com general managers poll was released, and once again, Fisher took first place honors in the category "Which active player will make the best head coach someday?" But while it's hard to argue with the front office's feel for Fish's potential -- he's nothing if not blessed with the ability to reach people and garner respect -- the view on his future may be off. Despite the ease in which everyone and their mother can picture him holding a whiteboard, the five-time champion says he actually has very little interest in the profession.
"Coaching doesn't look that fun to me, to be honest," laughed Fisher. "They seem to stress a lot, and they spend probably more hours than we do watching film and preparing for the games and what not, so I have a lot of respect for the profession and the job that coaches do. But it's not something that I'm really looking forward to signing up to do. Especially anytime soon."
As far as Brown's concerned, that's just fine and dandy.
"I think they're wrong," smiled the Lakers coach. "I don't think he'd make a good coach. I say that because I still want to coach and I don't want him taking my job."
Tongue then removed from his cheek, Brown went on to praise Fisher's future, whatever it holds.
"He's gonna be able to do whatever he wants, whether it's coach or be a GM or a President of the team. He just has the right presence, demeanor or whatever you want to call it, to succeed in life. I don't care what he decides to do. He'll be able to get it done. He's got big-time leadership skills.