The countdown to Christmas Day has already started (and I mean that literally, looking at the ESPN Los Angeles homepage), but Lakers vs. Cavs isn't the only interesting- and potentially treacherous- matchup LA faces this week. There's tonight's date with the Thunder (read Andy's preview here). Then after the curtain comes down on Kobe vs. LeBron! the Lakers turn around and play in Sacramento Saturday evening.
All three present a challenge. OKC may be 13-13, but they pushed the Lakers to OT back on Nov. 3, and are a decent enough road team (6-6) with heaps of talent. The Cavs exactly haven't been dominant, but are still 21-8 and just blew out Phoenix on the road Monday night. Sacramento is 13-14 overall but 10-3. None are gimmies, and the psychology is interesting. Do the Lakers get caught looking past the Thunder? Do they come out flat after all the hype against Cleveland? Will there be a letdown the next night in a game that looks easier on paper than it will be on the floor? (I'll answer below, but first, you vote, because always we must preserve the democratic process...)
First things first- put down your torch and pitchfork, I think there's a very good chance the Lakers win all three. On virtually every night they'll walk into any arena as the favored team, and rightly so. That said, these guys aren't robots, and there are a lot of variables at work this week. They just came off a long road trip. The Christmas holiday is coming fast, the attention and focus given to Friday's game is over the top for a regular season game, and Saturday is a back-to-back against a young, athletic team playing with confidence on their home floor. Plus, there's the more vanilla reality of an 82 game regular season, that sometimes good teams just don't play very well.
A loss somewhere along the line would hardly be shocking, even for a veteran, tested bunch like the Lakers.
Personally, I think the Sacramento game is the most dangerous (as defined by "game the Lakers are most likely to drop of the three"). Tyreke Evans has, at least in my mind, passed Brandon Jennings in the early stages of the ROY race, and Jason Thompson is playing well, too. Meanwhile, additions like Sergio Rodriguez and Omri Casspi have changed Sacramento's complexion even more. Bottom line, this isn't the team that won 17 games last year, as evidenced by their 35 point comeback last night against the Bulls.
Should the Lakers take all three, it would probably be more impressive than the four game road sweep they just completed through Chicago, Milwaukee, New Jersey and Detroit. They've been good at setting small tests for themselves in what is a long season. It wouldn't surprise me to hear Phil Jackson is looking at these three games in those terms.