In spite of it all though us winter soldiers can't wait for the purple and gold to take the floor once again. It might not be Showtime, the Shaq/Kobe One-Two Punch, or even the Pau/Mamba connection anymore, but it's still Lakers basketball.
With the craven Dwight Howard and his floppy comrade James Harden awaiting the Lakers on opening night here's my wish list for this basketball eve.
Last season's Lakers routinely got scored on in bunches and it made me want to punt kittens. While this year's squad doesn't have the personnel needed to be near the top of the league in defense I do expect them to at least be respectable. After all, that was the big selling point of hiring Byron Scott: a old-school, defense-first coach who would have the team competing hard every single night. The anti-D'Antoni, or maybe the Pretzels to his Pringles, if you will.
The Rockets lineup features Dwight Howard, who for some reason or another will be motivated to stick it to the team he already stuck it to. Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre, and Ed Davis are going to struggle containing Howard but if they can keep him from catching the ball deep in the paint and give the guards a chance to dig down on him Dwight will cough the ball up more times than not (Lakers fans set the world record for face palms after watching "Superman" act like the ball was made of buttered-up Kryptonite two seasons ago).
So on this basketball-eve I'd love to see Dwight Howard finish the game with 5+ turnovers. And a billion missed free throws.
Houston Can't Handle Randle
The Rockets bench is significantly weaker than it was last season, thanks in part to the Lakers pilfering Jeremy Lin last summer. They also lost defensive stalwart Omer Asik, which means that the Lakers second-string should be going up against a Houston defense that is lacking in rim protection and bulk.
Enter Julius Randle. The Lakers rookie consistently improved his play during the preseason, eventually settling into a rhythm and showing a knack for pushing the ball coast to coast following a defensive rebound. On the offensive end his best moves saw him attacking after facing up from the perimeter, using his surprisingly quick first-step and strength to bully his way to the basket.
Houston's second unit seems well-suited to a Randle attack, and as long as the Julius can avoid throwing anymore forearms to the throat (sorry Rudy Gay) he should be able to have a solid night.
I'm wishing for 10 points and7 boards from Randle (20 minutes played) with a flash or two of future brilliance.
Put A Hurting On Harden
I don't want to advocate any athlete getting hurt or any kind of dirty play, but James Harden is going to flop, fall, and fool the refs into one free throw after another. If he's going to get the call anyway the Lakers might as well get their money's worth.
Harden needs to feel it, really feel it, if he's going to drive into the lane and flail around in hopes of snagging a whistle. Make him think twice about attacking the paint so he has to settle for the jumper, which is still deadly but much more watchable than a parade to the free throw line.
Maybe we need to bring back MWP for a game....
The Lakers have been talking about playing "smash-mouth defense" for the past week or so, and with Harden they need to really put that plan into action. Smash-beard defense? Sounds like a perfect basketball-eve wish to me. I want to see Haren held to less than 20 points on 40% shooting or worse with at least two or three plays that make him glad his beard provides a little shock-absorption.
Enter Jeremy Lin. The plucky point guard who set the league en fuego in 2012 finds himself on the grandest stage of them all going up against the team that relegated him to the bench in favor of Patrick "Westbook Kick" Beverly.
In fact, Lin's time in Houston was so unremarkable that he now finds himself underrated by fans and media pundits alike. The stigma of being reduced to a bench role caused many to overlook the fact that Houston mainly went with Beverly because they needed a defensive ace at point guard in order to take on the tough assignments that James Harden was unable (and unwilling) to handle.
The fact remains though that Jeremy Lin is a very good point guard. Maybe not an All-Star (although he will be one this year) but he will be much better than most expect. He's a hard worker who plays the game with fire and passion. The Staples Center crowd is going to love Jeremy Lin and he is going to do big things in purple and gold, mark my words.
On this basketball-eve I'm wishing for 18+ points and 6+ assists from Jeremy Lin, with a steal or two and a couple of threes thrown in for good measure.
Lastly, This....So Much This
Just once. If there is any karma in the world the basketball gods will bring us an old-fashioned Kobe posterization of Dwight Coward. Tea, anyone?
Don't miss Lakers vs. Rockets tomorrow night at 7:30! Follow me on twitter @16ringsNBA for more Lakers fanaticism.