It's not often we land a guest good enough to keep around for 40-ish minutes. Or, more accurately, a guest that good and actually willing to tolerate Brian and me for such an interminable period of time. Thus, we jumped all over such generosity from Lang Whitaker, executive editor of Slam and SlamOnline.com. He also happens to be a die-hard Hawks fan, which made him even more ideal for a chat leading into tonight's contest.
-(2:00): Whitaker picked the Lakers to win it all before the season began and sees no reason to jump off the "Repeat" bandwagon, despite what many consider recent slippage and a generally inconsistent season for the purple and gold.
-(4:45): Brian recently posted thoughts about the impact of more time without Andrew Bynum. Whitaker shares his thoughts, noting how the Lakers' second string center happens to Pau Gasol, hardly a chopped liver fallback. Thus, he'd be fine if Drew took as much time as needed to heal up and reminds fans how lucky they are to be in this unique position.
"As a Hawks fan, I wish we had that luxury," laments Whitaker.
-(6:55): Brian lays out what the Lakers' biggest weaknesses: Outside shooting and the bench. The former doesn't concern Whitaker because "Kobe's going to shoot the ball in the playoffs, anyway. And Gasol. I'll let those guys take as many shots as they want." As for the bench, rotations typically shorten during the playoffs, so the Slam Man isn't fretting that issue, either. He does, however, wonder if point guard depth (or lack thereof) could become a problem.
-(9:15): The lack of separation between seeds 2-8 in the Western Conference is discussed. To put it mildly, every playoff team is tough. Between the Spurs, Blazers and Thunder (the teams most likely to face the Lakers in the first round), Whitaker thinks L.A.'s best draw is Portland. Brian thinks it's San Antonio. I think it's damn near impossible to make a choice. All three represent a tougher opening draw than the average playoff bottom feeder.
Along those lines, teams 2-8 feature more or less the same amount of talent. Unless you're talking about the Lakers getting bounced in the first or second round, I'm not sure any outcome qualifies as an "upset" in the West. The competition is just that fierce.
-(18:05): Moving on to Lakers-Hawks. Atlanta's offense is among the league's more efficient, but not necessarily the most creative. As Whitaker notes, lotta "Iso-Joe (Johnson)" down the stretch, a sequence heavily influenced by "Iso-LeBron" and "Iso-Kobe." Still, between JJ, Mike Bibby, Josh Smith, Al Horford and likely 6MOY Jamal Crawford, Atlanta has many options on the menu.
-(24:33): Despite the Hawk's increasing success, they don't get the same respect as other upper-echelon teams, in part because it's hard for the national media to go gaga when the famously fickle locals barely acknowledge the team's existence. Atlanta folk undoubtedly give college squads undying love, but 'cmon now. The legally paid athletes need you, too!
-(28:30): As for tonight's game, what are some issues to look for? Whitaker thinks the Hawks may not need to hide Bibby as much defensively against the Lakers, Horford's steadily increasing offensive presence could be a factor and Smith can offset Gasol to some degree. That all sounds dandy, but there remains a potential fly in the ointment for Atlanta.
"Whoever's guarding Kobe," laughed Whitaker.
Plus, if Artest pull a repeat of the lockdown job he did on Johnson in early November, yikes!
-(32:05): We move into NBA issues in general. First, the Gilbert Arenas situation, then the most recent incident involving leaked nude photos of an NBA player, even more proof the Internet and social media should force athletes to exercise even more caution.