Friday, January 11

Lakers Roll, Redeem My Interest in Sports

As I write this the Staples Center crowd's chant for tacos is audible on ESPN as the Lakers threaten to hold the Milwaukee Bucks under 100 points en route to a double digit victory and their fifth in a row.

It's clear the Bucks are a team in transition as their best offensive player, Michael Redd, is coming off the bench while he recovers from a thigh injury and the Bucks' defensive stopper isn't in uniform because he doesn't exist.

The bigger story, however, is the incredible run the Lakers are putting together and although Kobe Bryant has been and continues to be the Lakers' main scoring threat, the credit for this season's early success has to be shared with Andrew Bynum.

Today's game was the first Lakers contest I've seen in weeks and Bynum's improvement is incredible. Today he unleashed a bevy of spin moves and drop steps that had visions of a young Shaq floating in my head. Bynum's attitude is also more confident and aggressive and that's exactly what you want to see in your big man. Hell, I even saw him swear when Phil Jackson took him out of the game for a breather. Kobe's killer instinct must be rubbing off on him.

Even better than watching this young player develop was witnessing how well the team played together. The Lakers carried the lead throughout the first quarter behind a 16 point outburst from Kobe, but they didn't take off until the second half when the ball touched several hands before each shot attempt. Opposing teams now have to respect both Bynum and Kobe and space is opening up for role players like Farmer and Fisher to knock down open jumpers. They've been knocking them down and in turn opening up more space for Bryant and Bynum to work and this self-feeding cycle is the main reason the Lakers have won fifteen of their last eighteen games.

The Lakers maintained their lead throughout this contest despite constant pressure from Michael Redd and Mo Williams largely thanks to their excellent team defense. Nearly every player in blue and gold showed active hands and everyone from Bryant to Turiaf was jumping into passing lanes and smothering ball handlers. I haven't seen this kind of defensive intensity since L.A.'s championship years at the end of last century.

The crowd's cheers have turned to boos as the Bucks eclipsed the 100 point mark and prevented the Staples Center crowd from collecting free tacos. Call me an optimist but I still see a lot worth cheering for.


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