Back in the 1980's when I moved to Los Angeles, and before I became a Spurs fan, L.A. billed itself as the City of Champions. Now? Not so much.
The town has not had an NFL team for decades, and since 1988, San Antonio has won as many World Series championships as the mighty Dodgers. While the L.A. Kings have apparently won a Stanley Cup, that is, after all, only hockey.
As for the Lakers, another championship seems to be years off. With all that in mind, I will be visiting Staples Center Friday night to see my Spurs play against my former team. And yes, I will be wearing Spurs gear, most likely my Five Banners shirt. Not to rub it in, but just because it is very comfortable and classy.
My thoughts on the match-up:
· Wise Laker fans now root for the team to lose as often as possible to preserve the best possible chance to save the top-three protected lottery pick. Nonetheless, Staples Center continues to sell out most games. I am sure the Spurs game will be no exception. Amazingly, the fans remain enthusiastic, cheering wildly on the rare occasions a Laker player does something right. This may be the by-product of the type of fan now attending Laker games. Looking around Staples Center, it is apparent that a Lakers game has become "date night" more than a sporting event. For that reason, the "kiss cam" is often the highlight of the game.
· The Spurs have done a great job mixing and matching new players with legacy players, and the young with the old. The Lakers have done the opposite. The coach, old school Byron Scott, took the top two Laker prospects (Julius Randle and D'Angelo Russell) out of the starting line-up weeks ago. Each average about 26 minutes per game, less than the retiring Kobe Bryant and 10-year veteran Lou Williams. Neither youngster gets much meaningful fourth-quarter time, even in those games where the Lakers somehow stay close.
· On a related note, the Lakers rarely "stay close". The Lakers are out-scored by 9.7 points per game, second worst in the league to the even more woeful 76ers. With the Spurs out-scoring opponents by an incredible 14.2 points per game, the line for the game should be Spurs by 24 points. Which never happens for an NBA game. Nonetheless, that is what the numbers say. Put another way, if Vegas put the line at 20, wouldn't you bet on the Spurs?
· With the Spurs having the benefit of several days off, I am very much hoping that my former colleague Gregg Popovich doesn't hold out best ever power forward Tim Duncan, my man Manu or the Oui Frenchman. Just as Kobe is on his farewell tour, Pop should recognize that Spurs fans in other cities cherish their few remaining chances to see the Big Three in action. Someone should let Pop know. Though he won't care, nor should he.
· Speaking of Kobe, after playing guard his entire career, he is now starting at the small forward spot. Which means that for this game, he will be covered by Kawhi Leonard. It will be fascinating to see if Kawhi will be merciful and lets the old guy make a shot. Or even get a shot off. Something tells me that Kawhi is not the merciful type, especially since this is a homecoming game for him. He went to high school in Riverside, just east of L.A. and college at San Diego State. Since most Spurs games are not televised in L.A. unless someone has League Pass, this is Kawhi's opportunity to show his old friends how awesome he has become.
· LaMarcus Aldridge also has a Laker connection - or almost did. During the summer, he granted the Lakers two chances to try to persuade him to become a Laker. They failed. At some point before or during the game, LMA will presumably look across the court at the Lakers' collection of "talent", compare it to the Silver and Black, reflect back on his decision this summer -- and smile. As will I.