Don from the Lakers blog With Malice was nice enough to stop by for a Q and A in preview of the Cavaliers-Lakers game this Christmas day, and his answers to my questions are below. For my answers to his questions, click here. But don't just read my answers while you're there, check out Don's remix to a classical piece of holiday literature...Twas Hours Into Christmas...but first:
Stepien Rules: What does Kobe do for his team, in your opinion, that's better than what LeBron can do for his?
Don (With Malice): It's kind of like comparing a Ferrari and a Lamborghini - both are amazing... but here goes: Unlike the Cavs/LBJ, LA has no need for Kobe to excel at rebounds/assists/defense - even tho' he does all of that to an extent. Cleveland's roster needs LeBron James to do all of that, and a bit more. And scoring-wise, their skillset can be broken down to the most basic level as such: one has a massive arsenal on how he can beat you (read: score), and the other has an almost unstoppable ability to get to the basket, and score. Kobe can do that too - and has done so with incredible efficiency this season... but with LeBron's massive physique he's harder to stop in traffic. LA don't need that either: there are plenty of other options to score with bodies all around. For me, the thing Kobe has (at this point of their careers) over LeBron is his ability to know "when". "When" to get his team-mates involved - and which of them, and "when" to take over. Simply put, his leadership is better (and that's something that's grown over the last 3-4 seasons).
Stepien Rules: What's your take on how Ron-Ron's blending into the new sqad thus far? He stopped drinking Hennesey at halftime right?
Don (With Malice): Ron-ron's one of the reasons LA are being hailed as the #1 defensive team in the NBA right now. It's been a focus of LA's from the beginning of the season, and Artest's been a major part of it. He brings a toughness that has been perceived as lacking in LA (tho' there was nothing of that last season even sans-Artest). And ol' Ronnie plays D on most swingmen (and on LeBron better than anyone else in the game)... this leaves Kobe with more energy for the other end. As for his ability to get in the limelight? It's not like that's changed much (revelations... Jimmy Kimmel), but where he is now, it's taken in stride. With Phil, Kobe et al - you can rest assured that the moment it becomes a true distraction, Ron'll have it explained to him. And he's older. I do believe he's far less likely to have a meltdown at the Lakers than any other team in the league. On the boozing, Ron said it best, stating that LA's too professional for him to pull stupid stunts. And he's too mature now. Isn't it a sign of maturity to admit to the follies of youth?
Stepien Rules: How has Khloe Kardashian affected team chemistry? Or more directly, how's the Candyman doing so far this year?
Don (With Malice): Khloe who? Oh... Lamar's been excellent. It takes a pretty phenomenal outlook and maturity to be a player of his talent, and be prepared to play as 6th man. The way he is now, Lamar could be a focal point or a #2 on nearly any team in the league... yet at LA he comes off the bench, for less money than he is worth. He's cognizant of how special this team is.
Stepien Rules: Even though I am afraid of your answer as a Cavs' fan, are this year's Lakers better than the team that won it all last season?
Don (With Malice): Clearly. My reasoning falls into 6 categories...
- Defense. Last season LA were decent defensively and damn good offensively. This season the focus has changed. They're good offensively, but very, very good defensively. Which leads to...
- Ron Artest. He's an upgrade for this team on Trevor Ariza. That's not to denigrate what TA's done in Houston: he's been flat-out amazing... but he'd never have achieved that in LA. At the Rockets, he can do what he can do. In LA, he'd still be a 4th-or-5th option. But Ron's better from 3pt land, more capable of defending bigger bodies (no-one defends LBJ like Ron... did I mention that?), and just a pitbull on defense. Ron's simply a better fit for LA than Trevor is/was.
- Kobe. Rather than resting on his laurels having one his 4th title, guy works his ass off over the summer on adding MORE to his already expansive game. Want to learn how to post up? Get "The Dream" in to teach. Kobe's just as hungry as he was last season... maybe even more so.
- Phil Jackson.
- A healthy roster. This is pretty much true of all rosters I guess... but look: LA were very good without Gasol early on, but what's happened since he's been back? They've been phenomenal. Add to the *healthy* category the presence of Andrew Bynum. Even tho' he's in a bit of a slump at the moment, he's going to play a major part in what LA does this season.
- Gasol playing yet another season, and learning even more. Kobe says that Gasol's the most complete big in the game today, and it's not even close. Who am I to disagree with Kobe Bryant?
Stepien Rules: Barring injuries, what has to go wrong for the Lakers to not make the NBA Finals? How do the Cavs beat them today?
Don (With Malice): Barring injuries, whilst I expect LA to make the Finals, they could be stopped by another team making a trade that improves their roster significantly. It'd take quite a bit tho'. For the Cavs to win on Christmas Day, they'll have to get a major contribution from Shaquille O'Neal, as well as their other bigs. LeBron will get his, as will Kobe... but there's 21 feet of "large" in LA that will need stopping for Cleveland to win.
I know Don has the Lakers by 10, but I will have to politely disagree. I think it all comes together for the Cavaliers today, and they beat the Lakers 98-93. Signature win, and the Cavs take off from here. Merry Christmas Cleveland!
Lastly, look for LeBron to be debuting this shoe today in LA - the Air Max LeBron VII: