Before the second meeting between the Knicks and Lakers this season, I asked Darius Soriano of Forum Blue and Gold a couple questions about the view from Lakeside. Without further ado…
ForumBlueandGold: I don’t think Laker fans are too concerned with this year being the year that age catches up to the Lakers. The oldest Lakers (that are expected to contribute) are Fisher and Kobe and both of those players still provide what’s expected of them – though I would add that concerns about Fisher are always present and that has little to do with his age.
As for Kobe, he continues to show an evolution in his game that has me believing that he can be extremely effective for 2-3 more seasons quite easily. With his continued refinement of a low post game and his uncanny ability to still get to his favorite spots on the floor due to his fantastic footwork, his overall game isn’t so much declining but just changing into a new way to control a contest.
In the end, I think the biggest concerns are still related to a combination of the Lakers’ health and the overall strength of other teams relative to the Lakers. In years past, the Lakers’ margin for error was larger due to the fact that they had more talent than other teams, especially in the big man department. However, with the rise of the Spurs, the continued excellence from the Celtics, and the additions of Bosh and LeBron to the Heat, other teams are now closer to the Lakers in talent and depth and that has fans concerned that a march through the playoffs will be much more difficult.
Knickerblogger: How do you see Andrew Bynum’s career unfolding? Knicks fans will always remember Isiah’s drafting Channing Frye over Bynum, and his connection (or lack thereof) to the latest Melo rumors seem to indicate that he is valued highly within the Lakers organization. However, he’s been injury prone, and waiting until after the World Cup to get knee surgery doesn’t seem to display the competitive fire of a Kobe or a Michael.
ForumBlueandGold: I’m probably higher on Bynum than most. Obviously his history of injuries is concerning and even if he gets through an entire season relatively healthy the thought that he could suffer another leg injury is always on the mind. That said, you just don’t often see a man with his combination of size and skillset. I’m not arguing that he’s in the class of Howard or a healthy Yao Ming, but he shows tremendous polish in the low post, great hands, and continues to improve his defense by better controlling the paint.
As for the questions about the surgery delay, I think those reports were overblown. Kobe too waited until after the World Cup to have the arthriscopic surgery on his knee. The difference between the two is that when Bynum actually went under the knife his surgeon decided to repair his torn meniscus rather than shave off the damaged portion. This surgery is more complex than a the typical operation performed and leads to longer recovery time. In the long run, though, this type of surgery is better for Bynum and should promote better health in his knee. Believe me, just like many other fans, I was frustrated that it took so long for him to recover and was distressed when Pau had to log so many extra minutes to compensate for Bynum being absent. But if he’s healthy through the end of this year and has relatively good health moving forward the extended healing time was well worth it.
Insider Point #1: Many fans think of the Lakers and assume that they’re a very good home team but I think many would be surprised that they’re actually just as good (if not better) on the road. This season they’ve already lost as many home games as they did all of last year. Meanwhile if the Lakers are able to beat the Knicks they’ll have the exact same record at home as they do on the road and would tie the Spurs for the most road wins in the league at this point (19). So, for those that are concerned that the Lakers may not be able to win without home court advantage, I think it’s important to note that they’re actually a very good road team. (I’d also point out that in the Lakers last two championship runs they’ve closed out 5 of their 8 playoff series on the road, including the 2009 Finals against the Magic.)
Insider Point #2: With such a top heavy team – especially one with the start power of the Lakers – you’d think missing a bench player wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but I’ve really noticed how much the Lakers miss Matt Barnes. Barnes is key player on some of the Lakers best performing units and has brought an added dimension to the Lakers’ offense as a slasher and offensive rebounder from the wing position that no one else can really provide. Since Barnes has been out with his injury, the Lakers have still been performing well as a group but the second unit has suffered and many times Phil Jackson has had to go to Kobe at back up SF. Some may recall that this was the case last year as well, but with Luke Walton healthy this year I was hoping Kobe wouldn’t have to spend much time at the 3. But that just hasn’t been the case as Luke just hasn’t been able to string together positive performances consistently.