Though it's only a preseason game, tonight's Lakers-Clippers matchup is crucial for the Lakers--easily the most important in many years.
In Monday's game, the Clippers were the big bad alley cat and the Lakers were the helpless mouse. The cat toyed with the mouse. That 114-95 Clipper win could have been worse. To quiet worried fans who are equating the Lakers with the Titanic, the team needs a strong showing tonight.
But forget all that.
Suddenly this just another meaningless pre-season game. There's been a startling development today, one that's potentially catastrophic. The Laker's best player, Kobe Bryant, isn't playing. Turns out there's a torn ligament in the wrist of his right hand-- his shooting hand--which he hurt in a spill in Monday's game. Depending on the severity of the damage, he could be out for a few days, or a few weeks. Without Bryant the Lakers have no chance tonight. They'll lose for sure, probably by more points than Monday night.
Looking beyond this game, though, where are the Lakers? Are they the Titanic, having just bounced off an iceberg? Possibly. Most likely Bryant's injury--even if it's not maximum severity--will hamper his shooting for a while, cutting down on the team's early-season point production. Remember center Andrew Bynum is suspended for the first five games. So without him, and with a subpar Bryant, the Lakers could be off to a wobbly start, something they can't afford in this shortened, 66-game season.
Bryant's injury and Bynum's five-game absence will magnify the deficiency at point guard. Aging Derek Fisher is the team's glaring weakness. In Phil Jackson's triangle, which didn't rely on a point guard, masking Fisher's limitations wasn't that difficult. But in new coach Mike Brown's more standard system, he will really be exposed.
On defense, Fisher is particularly a liability. He just can't keep up with the league's speedy point guards. With offensive production down, the Lakers' will need a stronger defense. Most likely, they're not going to get it.
Things are different now. There are a bunch of new players. There's no more Lamar Odom and former starter Ron Artest--or Metta World Peace--is older, heavier and slower and adjusting to his new role, leader of the second unit. Amid these tumultuous changes the Lakers are tryng to learn coach Brown's new system, which stresses defense. This team is used to the triangle, with its slower pace, unique spacing and unusual passing demands. But the triangle is history. According to some, so are the Lakers.