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Home-and-Home With the LAT's Kam Bros

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A Daily Babble Production

Much as I dislike the Lakers, it's hard for me to feel too much ill will for Andrew and Brian Kamenetzky of the LA Times.  Over the course of each summer, the blogging brothers are one of my chief lifelines to following the local pulse of my beloved baseball DodgersThey're both informed and entertaining, and even though they use their writing and podcasting talents to cover evil rather than good around this time of year, the preservers of the Lakers Blog at the Times have plenty of worthwhile hoops commentary to share.  So while we continue to wait for Ned Colletti, Scott Boras and Manuel Aristides Ramirez to get their collective acts together, the brothers and I exchanged a few questions about the purple and gold's visit to the New Garden tonight.  Let's go home-and-home with the Kam Brothers...

[UPDATE: My answers to their questions can be found here.]

SW: Somehow, there actually seemed to be some media backlash to Kobe's 61-point game.  I don't get it.  How one of the best players on the planet dominating a game and doing it on superb efficiency (19-for-31 from the field, 20-for-20 from the line) is supposed to be construed as a bad thing is beyond me.  Is there any merit to the criticism that this performance from Kobe could be a bad sign from the Lakers going forward?  Why?

BK:  Funny you should ask.  I have a long record of supporting scoring balance on the Lakers and would agree that if the Lakers needed Kobe to score 50 a night to win, if he took 30+ shots a night, if he just cranked out jumpers all night, yeah, they'd be in trouble.  Except they don't, and as they move forward without Andrew Bynum, he won't.  I wrote about it at length Tuesday afternoon, specifically referencing Paul Forrester's doom-and-gloom piece on SI.com.  This one was off the rails.  Kobe only had three assists!  Kobe didn't have a single rebound!  He's freezing out his teammates!  The end is nigh!  Over the last couple seasons, coverage of Kobe has become overwhelmingly positive, but there are still some guys out there who seem not to like him or accept how his game and leadership skills have evolved. 

Last year, over the second half of the season, playing with basically the same group he'll be playing with while Bynum is hurt, Kobe averaged 20.7 shots a night...one more than he did before Bynum's injury.  5.5 APG after the break vs. 5.3 APG.  6.7 RPG vs. 6.1 before.  So there's really nothing to support the notion that he'll suddenly become Old Kobe The Lone Warrior Who Trusts Nobody But Himself, just because Bynum is hurt again.

SW: I'm sure you've both had more than your fill of it, but we have to touch on Bynum.  In what regard will his injury affect this year's team the most?

BK: Defense.  Without Bynum in the middle, the Lakers lack a true shot-changing presence.  Their defensive scheme has been predicated on funneling the opposition to help, and the big, ludicrously long Bynum was a huge factor in that.  Without him, penetrating guards will do more damage, something that was a major problem for the Lakers last season.  Obviously, too, it'll hurt them on the glass on both ends as well.  Lamar Odom can pick up some of the rebounding slack, but not all of it, and his length while disruptive a) isn't as long, and b) doesn't come with the bulk behind it.  Simply put, they're just not as strong an interior team without Bynum.  Still very, very good, but not as good. 

 
Offensively, LA will still score, but Bynum had just started to gain his confidence back and was playing aggressive ball in both the low block and increasingly in the high post as well. He was getting great position, giving the Lakers 10-15 very high percentage looks a night. Some of those now become jumpers, which means more long rebounds, more transition opportunities for the guys in the other jerseys, which means more cheap points against LA, and so on. It's much easier to control the pace of a game when you have TWO smooth and talented seven footers on the front line.  Nobody really has an answer for that.
 
What's weird, though, is how the storyline basically has become "Bynum is done for the year," or that he won't contribute in '09, despite ample evidence that it's not necessarily the case.  We spoke with a respected orthopedist (NOT BYNUM'S DOC, it should be noted), who shed some light on the situation, and he confirmed that there's absolutely no reason to assume that because last year Bynum's knee injury put him out for the season that this year's version will do the same.  Not that he suffered a paper cut or anything, but the MCL tear in Bynum's right knee is infinitely less complicated than the kneecap subluxation/bone bruise he suffered last year in his left.  Nobody can say for sure when he'll return, but there's really no reason to write Bynum (and his contributions to the team) off as a loss for the year. 

SW: When we talked before the December match-up, you gave me the idea that facing the Celtics was something of an "armageddon game" for the fans of the purple and gold.  With one win over the C's under their belts but no appearances at the New Garden since the 131-92 pounding in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals, what's the mood of fans on the Left Coast going into this one?

BK: Had they lost Christmas Day, Lakers fans would likely see this as a must-win.  Now?  They certainly want the W, but I don't think people will panic if it doesn't come... as long as the Lakers play a decent game.  There are a lot of safety nets for the psyche.  It's the second night of a back-to-back. Bynum just got hurt, and while the team is certainly used to playing without him, it'll take a few games for them to get back into last year's rhythm.  If they go in tonight, show some sack, Pau Gasol plays a decent game, and they can remember to get Kobe looks off screens and the pass to generate some clean looks, there will be enough to take from this one to satisfy. 
 
Now, if it turns into another Game 6?  That could get ugly. 
Thanks to Brian for an insightful set of answers and to both Brian and Andrew for hosting me over at the Lakers Blog.  Here's to Manny returning to the Dodgers soon and a big win tonight for the green!