This is it! This is “The Final One.” Bernard Hopkins, all jokes...
NBA BEAT: Grabbing An Elusive Lead From Arch Rivals
SAN ANTONIO – The Los Angeles Lakers may have one of the toughest tasks in franchise history. How do they rebound from a 5-7 mark, win maybe nine of their sixteen games in December that includes four sets of back to back games, and possibly jump from last place and vault to the third position in their division? If you’re Phil Jackson and the coaching staff you do it in a methodical fashion.
Let’s throw the San Antonio game out of the mix and deal strictly with the month of December. The first set of back to backs involves an away/home set up with Utah (away, 12/1) and Minnesota (home, 12/2). This will be a tough match up because the Timberwolves are playing good basketball right now. With a 7-5 record as of this writing, Duane Casey and his staff have this team pointing in a positive direction.
Next game is the Charlotte Bobcats on Sunday (12/4). This should be a good tune up for this team and if they play in convincing fashion, they should be able to boost their record to 7-8. Now comes the hard part; winning on the road.
The Lakers have a six game road trip that takes them all the way to December 16th. Here are the teams they face and it includes two back-to-back stints: Milwaukee (12/6), Toronto (12/7), Chicago (12/9), Minnesota (12/10), Dallas (12/12) and Memphis (12/14). They will come home and face the Washington Wizards on 12/16.
That’s eight games in thirteen days and the record for that stint could be .500 giving them a new hypothetical record of 11-12. To finish out the month, this team has Houston (12/18), Dallas (12/20), Orlando (12/23), a back to back of Miami on Christmas and Washington on the 26th and finishing out the month with Memphis on the 28th of the month. That final record could be 4-2 giving this team a 15-14 record going into January.
So why all the optimism for a team that was 23rd in this column’s power rankings? Well if you look at how things are playing out right now, there are some major shifts in how teams are playing and how they are holding on divisional standings.
If my hypothetical scenario holds true to form, what will happen for this team is that Jackson will have Kobe Bryant on the same page and he will have gotten his veteran leader to do something that he has not been able to get him to at any other time in his career; be a floor general.
Maybe it’s a bunch of holiday cheer coming from the cheap seats but it could very well be a scenario that not only bodes well for this franchise but possibly in the grand scheme of playoff dynamics, maybe a good month in December means that the Lakers will be able to push their cross town rivals and NBA fans could be treated to two Los Angeles teams playing in the post season.
WHO’S HOT AND WHO’S NOT Well this is going to be a season first but one player will actually garner both titles this week, as Kobe Bryant is the hottest and coldest player of the week. He’s the hottest player as he scored 46 points against the New Jersey Nets. That is the third time in six games that Bryant has gone over forty points in a game.
Now here’s why he is also not so hot for the week. Bryant has taken thirty-six shots in a game twice and in the six previous games he has surpassed the thirty shot attempt mark three times. In that span, his team is 1-2. That’s 1-2 when he scores forty points or more in a game.
2. Dallas (10-3): The Mavs have come on strong as of late and have tied their division rivals, the Spurs, for best mark in the West but the question will be how long can they hang on to that moniker with the Spurs coming to town on Thursday.
3. Spurs (10-2): This team still has close out problems against opponents but the loss against the Chicago Bulls showed something else; offensive sets where key players can get plays. Had the Spurs continued to feed Nick Van Exel in that game, they might have not only won the game but move up a notch in the ranking.
4. Cavaliers (9-4): Cavs stay at the four spot for the week despite a sub par performance recently in which they still lost a crucial game.
5. Clippers (9-4): The Clippers fall three spots this week not because of poor play but because Dallas was just that much better of a team this week.
6. Grizzlies (9-5): The Grizzlies are holding their own this week but the month of December will be a tough stretch for them as they will be taking on the Lakers twice this month during a crucial road game stretch.
7 Golden State (10-6): The Warriors move up this week with some consistent play from their vets and some good, quality wins that were needed. Improvement can still come though and December should be a good month for them to venture out onto the wild side.
8 Miami (8-6): Shaq is still out but this team is still trying to win games even though they’ve had a few questionable losses.
9. Nuggets (8-7): One game over .500 doesn’t sit well with George Karl and this team should respond well when they start taking on more evenly matched opponents.
10. Minnesota (7-5): Rumors are still flying about where will KG land before the trade deadline but the Wolves are clawing their win into wins and even managing to shock a few opponents with consistent defense.
11. Pacers (8-4): Rick Carlisle’s squad is having a hard time trying to defeat the teams that they should beat and are even struggling a bit at home.
12. Suns (7-5): The Suns are still trying to figure out their offensive sets as they are just hoping that .625 ball is enough to keep a decent record until Amare Stoudamire returns sometime after the All Star break.
13. Magic (7-6): Orlando is getting good play from Josh Howard and Jameer Nelson steadily improves as a floor general but Steve Francis needs to light a fire under his team and get them to play a consistent 48 minutes.
14. Nets (7-7): An overtime win plus Vince Carter playing good ball right now has helped the Nets try to find their way out of the depths of the Atlantic division.
15. 76ers (7-7): As well as the Nets are playing, it seems that the 76ers are playing just a little bit harder. Even with their overtime loss to New York, this team scrapped and clawed their way to an almost win for Maurice Cheeks.
16. Bulls (6-5): The Bulls made impressive wins against the Spurs and Rockets but those weren’t enough to overcome some losses that may have been winnable.
17. Wizards (6-7): What started out as a hot team has fizzled back to being just part of the crew. Maybe it is as Gilbert goes, so does this talented roster.
18. Jazz (6-8): The Jazz are struggling in their division but they are winning just enough games to make things a little interesting. Things should be a little better when AK-47 comes back but they won’t be too much better as long as Carlos Boozier remains on IR.
19. Kings (6-7): If the Kings want to improve, Rick Adelman will have to find a way to not only get Brad Miller more touches, they will need to find more offensive sets that frees up Mike Bibby so that he can be a game changer.
20. Hornets (6-7): Is Chris Paul really that good or are the Hornets really that bad? Maybe it’s a combination of both but whatever it is, this team is still fun to watch even if they lose the game in grand fashion.
21. Bucks (6-6): T.J. Ford is still trying to get used to playing the game but at least this team doesn’t look too lost out there on the floor.
22. Celtics (5-8): Where has all the Celtic pride gone as of late? Maybe what’s hurt this team just a little bit is their lackluster play and it shows against some of their ‘easier’ opponents. After all the Hawks got their first win off of this squad.
23. Bobcats (5-9): If this team can ever get on track and put all the pieces together, this team could come out looking outside in on a playoff run. It’s early though.
24. Lakers (5-7): The triangle is now a square as it’s all Kobe these days and with very little success. It could only get worse despite a favorable December schedule.
25. Sonics (5-8): Yes this team is falling faster than you can say vinte café latte and it’s only going to be a slippery slide as the Sonics faithful will just have to ride this wave of bad basketball until about the All Star break.
26. Trail Blazers (5-7): The only team that has held a spot with a losing record. Rumors are still swirling on trade rumors and now it could be three-team deal if the mullah is right and allows Paul Allen to ship Ruben Patterson to Toronto.
27. Knicks (4-9): Larry Brown probably still hasn’t figured out his rotation yet but there is a bright spot for the week; that overtime win against the 76ers brought a little old MSG magic back even for one game.
28. Rockets (3-11): If Jeff Van Gundy doesn’t start getting Yao Ming to play with some aggression and if this team doesn’t start playing with consistency, he will become a coaching casualty and that would be unfortunate for a good coach.
29. Hawks (2-10): Two wins allows them to flip flop with their basement roommate, the Raptors. As much as they may have shown in those two wins, it still is inconceivable how this team does not play with the necessary passion.
30. Raptors (1-14): The Toronto Raptors are this week’s worse team and now there is a race to see who will fire their coach first, the Hawks or this team. Management needs to do Jalen Rose a favor and trade him to a team where he can do some good.