In the interests of promoting inter-conference, contra-coastal understanding, Andy Kamenetzky of the Land O' Lakers Blog on ESPN LA and I exchanged questions about tonight's Hawks/Lakers game.
My answers to Andy's questions can be read here.
Andy's answers to my questions are below...
Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Like the Hawks, the Lakers are on a lengthy stretch of .500 basketball themselves. Unlike the Hawks, the Lakers are the two-time defending champions and deep into their fourth long season in a row. How does that past success inform perceptions of an 8-8 stretch? Does it make mediocre play seem that much worse or does it create an assumption that this will pass and the team will play better as the playoffs approach?
Andy Kamenetzky, Land O' Lakers: The answer is "yes" on both counts, and I'm not sure either answer is correct. The Lakers are often analyzed (in particular, locally) through a myopic lens. Their issues are always presented at DEFCON 1, while other contenders are presented as firing on all cylinders. The hyperbolic reaction is predictable -- the Lakers are the league's highest profile team and nobody else has more to lose -- but it doesn't always create the most accurate analysis. Even two-time defending champs should be expected to have weaknesses.
Having said that, even as someone who still believes in this team's potential, I don't think it's as easy as "crank it up as the playoffs approach, no questions asked." This team has been all over the place for reasons beyond complacency. It's definitely been an issue, but at times they've looked more discombobulated than disinterested. There's something habitually out of sync with their on-court chemistry. The issues are correctable, but they're not simply a matter of "Instant perfection: Just flip the switch," as it's framed by some fans and media. Then again, as long as the Lakers treat the matter as one requiring actual work, it doesn't really matter what those outside the team think.
BL: After finishing in the top 6 each of the past three seasons, the Lakers are 10th in the league in defensive efficiency so far. Have they slipped defensively, or do you expect them to defend better over the last quarter of the season?
AK: There's been some slippage, but it's debatable how consistently dramatic. I crunched numbers on Jan 26 after Jerry West's infamous (and overblown) comments about age preventing good D, and by basically every measure available, the results were still pretty good. They've hardly morphed into the Warriors. Of late, there have been more problems scoring than defending, and poor offensive execution (shot selection, turnovers) has compromised the defense. Yes, transition D is part of the gig, but no team can be effective while constantly defending on its heels. When the Lakers run their offense properly and smartly, the defense tends to follow.
And yes, I do expect improvement, even though attempting to read this teams' tea leaves has been a consistent exercise in me being wrong.
BL: From my distant, and admittedly often sleepy, perspective, Andrew Bynum has looked pretty good since returning. Is he back to full strength?
AK: Funny you should ask. At Monday's practice, Bynum told reporters, "It's getting better, but I don't feel the same [as before the surgery]. It is what it is."
("It is what it is," by the way, might as well be the official slogan for Andrew Bynum's knees.)
Phil Jackson has also alluded to conditioning issues, which definitely affects the center's minutes and, at times, his effectiveness. But overall, Bynum has looked pretty good. Offensively, he's another option down low and a source of second chance points. (Not to mention, for a team inexplicably perimeter-oriented at times, he's a physical reminder to play inside-out.) On defense, Drew's presence in the lane is a major plus, whether blocking shots or forcing misses. Plus, and this may be the most important by-product of his return, his availability keeps Pau Gasol a fresher and more effective player.
The positives of Bynum's return haven't been as pronounced as hoped, what with the other issues experienced of late. But it would be impossible to label his availability as anything but a major plus.
BL: Point guard most likely to make a layup in this game: Derek Fisher (25 in 1558 minutes), Mike Bibby (21 in 1657 minutes), or Steve Blake (5 in 1133 minutes)?
AK: I got Fisher in a landslide.
Blake is out. The guy doesn't even attempt enough of the three-pointers he was brought in to launch, much less whatever layups outside of his comfort zone. So between Bibby and Fisher, the Laker attempts more layups per minute, L.A. blocks more shots than Atlanta and Staples provides a home court advantage (of sorts). That gives Fish the edge. Not a great edge, mind you. Few things prompt Laker fans to cringe more than Fisher taking it "strong" to the rim. This happens more often than one would reasonably expect. Then again, some of those "Don't do it!" shots inexplicably drop at the damnedest times. The ol' geezer hit a buzzer beating layup against the Clips this season and had a huge drive to the rack in Game 3 against Boston. It doesn't make much sense, but neither does drafting Marvin Williams with Chris Paul and/or Deron Williams available and a glaring need at point guard. As Hawks' fans know, weird things happen.