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Fraternizing w/the Enemy: Chris & JRW on Lakers @ Spurs

Ever eaten dessert first, then the meal? Wait, that's a bad analogy because there's no way that Sunday's blowout at the hands of the Lakers can possibly be regarded as a dessert; unless it was a week-old, rotting, soggy serving of cherries jubilee. Please allow me to try again: Have you ever wanted to eat a meal after having had a dish of decaying ... This just isn't working. The grief after a blowout is simply consuming me. I think I'll leave the analogies alone and just cut to the chase, but don't expect the rest of this intro to be very engaging. All right, try number three: Sometimes I have conversations with bloggers from other SBNation sites. We talk about things. Sometimes basketball comes up. This time it was with Chris of Silver Screen and Roll. We talked about the game that was going to happen. Then it happened. Now you can read what we wrote to each other. (Here's the post at SS&R - if you join the discussion, please behave.)


The last exchange we did was kind of like Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B minor, unfinished. So, seeing as there were some points you made that I never got to respond to, I'm going to catch up before moving on to more recent things. I think I can agree that as far as NBA coaches go, Pop and Phil are are in a league of their own. Pop and Phil: wow, that has a bit of a ring to it. Kind of sounds like a 70's buddy cop TV show. Maybe a children's animated series about a boy and his beloved dog. Or better yet, a brand new product designed to repair flat tires.

Phil Jackson has got a lot going for him. First, you can't argue with all of those championship rings. Second, you can't argue with the person who has the rings because, much like Patrick Roy, they simply may not be able to hear you speak. Third ... well, as proficient and stable as he's been through his tenure as coach of the Lakers, as productive and consistent as the triangle has been when implemented, as stifling and problematic as his defenses are -- there's just a limit to how much praise I can make myself heap on a coach who marginalized my favorite team's initial championship with a punctuation reference. Let's just leave it at that, shall we. You were more gracious toward Popovich than I just was toward your coach, so I suppose you win the sportsmanship award this time.


Now I can't hear you because I'm behind this glass.

In January, you had talked about Pau Gasol; how well he'd done in the '10 Finals and how "relatively weak" he can play when he's not focused; the difference between last season's regular season, when he was outspoken when the Lakers got away from playing inside-out, and his current lack of frustration with the team. Has that changed at all in the last month? Do you see him asserting himself again, or has he been continuing his "aimless wandering" as you called it?

I didn't realize until I just checked the schedule today (for what must have been the 759th time this year) that the Lakers and Spurs play each other three more times this season, and every matchup is just over a month apart. In fact, that's true for all four of this season's meetings - Dec 28, Feb 3, March 6, and April 12. It's great to have these games spaced out and able to enjoy some personal space. I'm kinda surprised, but it actually appears as though someone at the league office was paying a bit of attention to the schedule, instead of simply feeding all of the data (arena concert dates, SEGABABA variables, home and away details) into a computer and approving whatever it spit out. What a pleasure to think of enough time going by in between the LA vs SA games for each of the teams to be able to breathe some before it's time for the next contest. It's quite a change from all of the weird scheduling that the Spurs have had so far in this calendar year: the Minnesota home-and-home, both Nets games in an 8 day stretch, two Griz games in three days. Blech.

So, your guys have been streaky since Antonio McDyess's buzzer-beating game-winning tip-in. I know that I talked about streaks when Gil Meriken and I discussed the December game, but this is something else. Four wins followed by three losses followed by five wins. Can you say roller coaster? And if so, has it still felt like watching those games is equal parts work and passion? With the Mavericks winning 17 of their last 18 games, there's been a lot of talk about whether they can catch the Spurs and get home court advantage, but there still just isn't a team in the league that concerns me as much as the Lakers do when they're playing well. I just feel like their top end is higher than that of any other team, and it ought to be an epic series if the Spurs and Lakers meet in the playoffs.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. There's still 25.6% of the regular season still left to be played. There's a game scheduled in Texas for Sunday. And although Tony Parker is expected to be out with a minor injury to his calf, we still need to set this game up. So how do you feel L.A. is playing, and do you expect to see anything different than what we saw in the first two meetings?


Loving the buddy cop show angle, The prospect of Zen Cop, Bad Cop alone makes the whole project seem genius. Just imagine it: Phil walks in to the room with a suspect, sits down, and does nothing. A little while later, Pop walks in and starts punching the guy in the face repeatedly. Cut to PJ beginning to meditate; back to Pop wailing on bad guy's face. Can anyone stand up to that kind of psychological torment? Physical abuse without even an attempt at discussion? For all the bad guy knows, these guys don't even want a confession so much as Pop just likes wailing on dude's faces. It works even better because Phil is known for not calling timeouts. Eventually, the bad guy would sing like a canary, PJ and Phil would both look at each other, and then both would punch the guy in the face simultaneously. And Scene.

Regarding the whole asterisk thing, I get where you are coming from, but I think you are looking at this all wrong. That was a classic Phil Jackson love tap. It's how you know he cares, like when your big brother sees you for the first time in a while, and his first act is to smack you on the back of the head. That was PJ saying "I see you, Spurs" and yanking your chain a bit. Just the other day he said that Ron Artest understands the triangle better than Kobe does. It's when Phil stops taking jabs that you should truly feel marginalized. But yeah, the man is kind of dick, the kind that is only acceptable if you've earned it by being better than anybody else at what you do, which really means its only acceptable because nobody else has the ability to make it unacceptable.

*Vague Movie Spoiler Alert* Pau Gasol is all better now. In fact, he was pretty much already there the last time we talked, but his re-birth was so new that weren't able to place full faith in it just yet. He apparently had more appreciation for Kobe Bryant's literary references than my own. While I portrayed Gasol as a man stuck in a life without meaning, Kobe drew the parallel between PG and Natalie Portman in Black Swan, saying that Pau was very much the White Swan and the Lakers needed him to get in touch with the Black Swan side of himself. Pretty much from that moment, Pau turned things around. Take what you will from the fact that he'd apparently rather consume himself in pursuit of excellence (and madness) than kill another in the pursuit of understanding (and madness).

The Lakers schedule has been relatively even keel all season long, that most recent three game losing streak notwithstanding. 9 out of 10 blogs have responsibly reported that the Lakers will only play 15 back-to-backs all season, the least of any team, because, you know, the NBA always likes to favor the Lakers. Of course, something like 2 out of 10 blogs have responsibly reported that the Lakers only face something like 9 teams on the back end of their own back-to-backs, so their net ratio of advantage/disadvantage from the whole SEGABABA thing is one of the worst in the league. Either way, the NBA has seemed to do their best to ensure that every Lakers game is played under the fairest of circumstances, even if the Laker team hasn't always obliged. The exception would be the most recent 3 game losing streak. The first two of those losses were the cruelest kind of schedule loss that is possible in today's NBA. They were the third and fourth of a FOGAFINI, which is bad enough, but the third game, in Orlando, was a matinee. Basically, the Lakers played three competitive basketball games (against three playoff teams) in less than 90 hours. It's the closest the NBA has come to a THRGABABABA since that asterisk plagued lock out season (I kid, I kid). And then the Lakers had to play again the very next night. That's how a great team playing great basketball has a losing streak. Not that any of this explains the loss to the Cavs, which I have no intention of explaining or justifying.


The 2010-2011 Lakers season in pictorial form

That roller coaster you speak of, the Lakers have been playing that way all season. They've done almost everything in streaks so far this year. 8 games up, 2 games down, 5 games up, 4 games down ... you can pretty much segment their entire season this way. They've only had five instances all season in which they've alternated results in three straight contests (W-L-W or L-W-L). Nearly every game has been a continuation of the streak, or the start of a new one. In truth, it's not really a roller coaster. I hate to be so trite as to break out the old "flipping the switch", but this Lakers team definitely has one. The problem is that Kobe gave the switch to one of his young girls, and she's flipping that thing like a strobe light. If you ever wondered what the cross section between a good basketball team and a disco would be, now you know.

Speaking of which, let's take some time to reflect on the last game between our two clubs, because it was awesome. I won't say that all of Lakers Nation took that loss as well as I did (the McDyess tip in made me laugh because of how stereotypical it was of both team's seasons), but without a doubt it was the most entertaining and well played game (from both teams) that the Lakers had been a part of to that point in the season. And I think we owe you a rather large thank you for it, because that loss really woke the Lakers up. You could almost see them go "Whoa ... we just lost a game we really tried to win?" Since then, they've been a much different team (3 game losing streak once again notwithstanding).

The Lakers are in a much different place coming into this game than they were the last one, but I don't know how much difference you will see in terms of the team's play, because the Lakers played about as hard as they can in that game too. It was just a great game, and I'd expect another one if the Tony Parker thing weren't looming in the distance. I would hope the Lakers can sink more than 2-14 three pointers, since, you know, literally everybody does better than that against the Spurs, but, while the season at large and overall record don't acurately assess the Lakers' true potential, I think that game was a pretty fair reflection of our two teams: So evenly matched that a little luck is required to win, either way.

But alas, Tony Parker. I'm wondering how PTR took the news that he would miss time. After all, the storyline of the Spurs season, the foundation for all other amazing features like great record, has been the health of this team. There's been none of the debilitating injuries that have sidelined or reduced the big three in year's past. I just looked it up, and until TP started missing time, the Spurs had the same starting lineup in all but one game. Where do you fall on the injury inevitability scale? Do you see TP's injury as the first crack in the dam, a sign that the miracle that is the Spurs health this season coming to an end? Or are you relieved that the Spurs picked an injury up now so as to no longer be tempting fate, since it is something which should be fully healed by the playoffs? How about the effect on the team's play? On the surface, the injury came at a pretty rough time, since you have to play the Lakers, Miami twice, and Dallas in Dallas over the next couple weeks. Are you afraid of losing your ironclad grip on the NBA's best record?


Wait. What's this? Apparently my whole line of questioning has been rendered null and void by one Tony "Wolverine" Parker. Somehow, his 2-4 week calf injury has disappeared after two measly games, and he had little trouble dropping 15 points and 8 assists in Friday night's victory over the Spurs. I gotta tell you, having been well versed in Spurs injuries over the course of my basketball watching career, this is starting to get fishy. The whole 90% of games with the same starting lineup thing is already surreal, now your players are recovering from injuries faster than normal, Tim Duncan is still alive, and Matt Bonner couldn't miss a three pointer with amputated hands ... I'm only 2% serious when I ask this, but can we be sure the entire Spurs team isn't taking performance enhancing drugs? I don't think it's possible they would do it collectively as a team on purpose. I'm just saying I wouldn't necessarily put it past Pop to "spike" the Gatorade, so to speak. You have to admit, it would explain an awful lot about how a team full of old dudes is suddenly performing at a higher collective level than they ever have.

In truth, I don't really believe any of that, but that's what the Spurs have left the rest of us with at this point, grasping at straws and accusing bodacious cheating claims. There's nothing else left for us to do.


I'm so glad that you explained the whole PJ love tap thing to me. I almost didn't bring it up, because it's been a bit of a sore subject for the last dozen years or so. I've always been well disposed toward believing that your coach is a good guy. I liked him quite a bit during his Bulls days. I was a Rockets fan at the time, having been raised in Houston, and they weren't doing much at the time that the Bulls starting collecting rings. So I certainly preferred to root for Chicago over New York, and when he attacked Pat Riley and the Knicks in the press (for playing dirty, and the refs for allowing it) I was inclined to agree with him and believe he was right. He was describing what I felt I was seeing, and I was glad when they advanced and went on to get a trophy. But when he started busting on the Spurs (or so I thought) that's when he started to change in my mind from Bulls Jackson, to Los Angeles Phil. And I didn't like the way he attempted to insert himself into the conversation, when I didn't even see that he had a dog in the fight.

When fans spend so much time with our favorite teams, there's a point where the familiarity is second nature, and it becomes hard to remember ever NOT knowing the things you know about them. That Manu was born in Bahia Blanca and grew up watching his older brothers play basketball at the higher levels before he quickly passed them all in the course of about a year and a half. That Tony started playing professionally at 14 and purchased his a basketball team in France. That Tim was so into Dungeons and Dragons when he was in college that he has a wizard tattoo on his back and when he came into the league, he wanted his nickname to be Wizard. The way the team operates and the relationships between the players and coaches, the staff and owners become as well understood as the inner workings of our own office politics. I find myself continually surprised when someone in my acquaintance reacts badly to something Popovich says. I'm amazed that they don't realize he's joking. "You can't really think he's being serious about that," I have found myself saying more than once. "He's just being sarcastic.That's not what he thinks at all."


Beware the love tap from the Phil

You may have had a similar moment when you read what I'd been upset with Phil about. Hey, the Spurs and Lakers go way back, and ever since the sweep of LA in '99, I'm sure there's been some bad blood, and bitterness bubbling under the surface on both sides. But nothing that Jackson said or did really stuck with me like that crack about the asterisk ('cuz, that's the Championship you're talking about there, guy) and since you've decoded that comment as a sign of (dare I say) affection, I'm wondering just how much your perspective on that statement is going to change the way I'm used to viewing him, and whether my grudging respect will become something less caustic. Of course, I'll still want him to lose as often as possible, but that just might be the extent of it.

Ahh, the inevitable discussion of the schedule. Here's how I feel about the schedules, who's favored and who has a fair set of games, and who gets the short end of the stick. [Steps up onto soapbox] There are too many teams, games, and arenas involved for anyone to do that job and NOT end up with entire communities upset with him/her. There are simply too many moving pieces involved. I think they do the best they can, ust like the refs. Wait a second, that may be going just a bit too far. Probably not a good thing to disillusion people about too many things at once. We'll save the refs for the April game, shall we?

Which brings us to your "flipping the switch comment" concerning the Lakers, and while I've always smirked about teams who've tried to do that, feeling secure in the knowledge that those teams would certainly be punished for such hubris once the playoffs came to town, enough we-play-hard-when-it-matters teams have won rings that I'm not as smug about it anymore. Which is a good thing, because this year I'm seeing some tendencies in the way the Spurs have been playing -- especially as far as defense is concerned. They'll coast through the first two or three quarters, just playing on offense and letting the team hang around as long as they can match baskets with the Spurs. And there are plenty of games that are won that way; with no special defensive pressure necessary. But every few games, a team will get hot, or it'll just be a good team, and suddenly the Spurs defense will be everywhere, there will be a quick 10-0 run and the game will be over. I guess we can just say that while I'm not exactly comfortable with it, I can at least be switch-flipping tolerant.

Where do I fall on the injury inevitability scale? I'll tell you. First, this season hasn't been as healthy as it would appear. Second, the injury inevitability scale OWES us, big time. We should have at least one, if not two, seasons like we're currently seeing, after the run of injuries the Spurs endured starting late in the regular season of 2007 until now. This team is DUE to be healthy. Hopefully that's enough to help you understand why, with as healthy as they've been this year, I'm not feeling like the other shoe is about to drop. It's because nearly half of Imelda Marcus' collection has been dumped on San Antonio over the last three and a half years. And this year's scoring has been spread out across so many different players, that when someone HAS gone down this year, and we HAVE had our injuries, it really hasn't affected the team much, as the record shows. As far as Tony goes, it's a bruise. They can call it what they want but the initial word was contusion. You can have a bad bruise that lingers, but it's not going to bother him in the playoffs unless it's a bruise of epic proportions.

And now that I've responded to your points and answered your questions, I feel ready to try out my new maybe-Phil-isn't-such-a-bad-guy-after-all mindset, and take on the next scene of Pop and Phil. [Cue the cheesy 70's music]

Pop and Phil enter the station house after processing the criminal they had just beaten into a confession. Before they can sit down at their desks, they hear their names being bellowed from the captain's office. As they walk toward the yelling, the two detectives share a wry smile: this isn't going to be a picnic.

[Interior, Captain's office: ]

Behind the desk sits a short man with a wide, lined face, glasses, and an impeccably tailored suit that despite all the effort, still manages to look just a bit too large. Despite the forced smile and eyes that tend to dart a tad too much, there's iron in his voice and the temperature in the room darts several degrees south as he says begins chewing out his star detectives.

Captain David Stern: Why? Why must the two of you torture me so? Do you hate me? Is that it? You despise me, don't you? Well do you?

Pop: Not particularly.


Phil: Well, Captain, it's really quite a stretch to call him a suspect when we were right there when he took the microchip.

Stern: Did you SEE him take it with your own eyes? (Silence) Do you have video of him grabbing it? (More silence) No, you don't. And I know you don't because you wouldn't be interrogating him if you did!

Pop: We don't need any video now because we have a signed confession --

Stern: THAT WE CAN'T USE! You have no solid evidence that he took the chip. You don't have the chip, and all we now have, is a man with his eyes swollen shut whose lawyer is telling me he wants your badges. AND I MIGHT JUST GIVE THEM TO HIM. (Takes a deep breath and removes his glasses.) I need you two to lie low for a while, I need you to take a few days leave and go to Scranton. Seems like they have some troubles with a strangler.

Pop and Phil: But, Captain --

Stern: Don't you "But, Captain." Me. You're lucky you're getting any job at all. I could suspend you without pay for that stunt you pulled. NOW GET OUT OF MY OFFICE!

Or should it be PJ and the Pop (a la BJ and the Bear the infamous TV show about a group of truckers, led by a young Greg Evigan, playing BJ McKay who was accompanied by his faithful companion, the chimp named Bear. And for those who don't remember the show, I am not making this up. See for yourself.


Which coach gets to be the monkey?


God, how I wish the injury inevitability scale worked with that kind of karma, but that's just now how it works. Just look at Portland. No matter how long the Jail Blazers era lasted, no team deserves the kind of crap they've gone through over the past few years, but it keeps happening, at least in part, because their main dudes have bad wheels. Up until this season, I would have said the same thing about the Spurs (mainly just Manu, but a little bit from TP and TD as well). It's genetics, pure and simple. I'm telling you of all this not to try and bust up your parade, I hope very much that the Spurs and Lakers both reach the postseason healthy so we can kick your ass fair and square, but I'd hate to see you expect the Spurs to maintain good health through karma, only to see that dream die if somebody picks up something serious. We've got fairly serious injury potential too, in Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant. Except, with Kobe, it just doesn't matter what happens to him, he'll play through anything. I love Bryant with all my basketball heart, but I have genuine concern for what his life will be like once he stops playing. He's driving his body so hard that I feel like he'll be a cross between Bill Walton and Muhammed Ali in 20 years.

As my last act on this go round, I wanted to take some time to acknowledge something which might make you and your readers a little queasy at first glance. Based on all the comments from you and PTR the first go round, I feel like I'm doing a good bit of the Lord's work in showing that behind all the fanboy posturing (of which there is admittedly too much), there's a great chunk of Lakers Nation that's really worth knowing. To tell the truth, I see more parallels between SSR and PTR than I do in any other site. Both sides have awesome communities, though the same could be said of almost all of SB Nation, but I don't think there are a whole lot more NBA sites that have so many memes as to require an index. I won't make any kind of argument equating SSR's memes with PTR, because your lexicon is unmatched. PTR has an entire language of its own, and we can't touch that yet, though I'd say that's more from our relatively young age than anything else. All I'm saying is that, deep down, SSR and PTR have a whole lot in common, and I'm trying to use my status as a well-liked ambassador to build a bridge between the two communities. Behind all our unapologetic arrogance, and behind the 24-7 media coverage that just goes along with being in the 2nd biggest media market in the country, we really are just like you, I swear.

On that note, good day, see you in April, and hopefully beyond.