What You Already Know:
After bowing out to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals last year, the Cavs have struggled to carry the momentum into this season, opening up with a sub par 11-15 record and losing eight of their last 10 games. As was the case with Kobe and the Lakers the past three seasons, King James is essentially forced into being the everyman for Cleveland with usually reliable scorers Larry Hughes, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden failing to provide much in the way of reinforcement.
For all of the hoopla the Lakers have received over the past few years for being a Kobe-centric team, the Cavaliers are also decidedly one dimensional. Led by LeBron James, Cleveland — like the Lakers — has no real second option either, although their roster is filled with players who were once accustomed to the role.
Last season, the Cavaliers played much better team ball, using LeBron more as a facilitator like the Showtime Lakers used to use Magic Johnson. Kobe summed up James’ situation best when he said, “I think he’s a great facilitator. He’s scoring the ball now for his team. His team pretty much needs him to do everything, so he’s been able to kind of elevate his game accordingly.” More simply put, LeBron needs help in a bad way and it’s likely going to have to come from within.
What You Might Not Know:
The Lakers have lost three straight games to the Cavaliers, the last of which came in Los Angeles last February. In that game, LeBron successfully outdueled Kobe with 38 points, leading Cleveland to their first win in seven tries at STAPLES Center.
Despite the lack of a true second scorer, offense has hardly been Cleveland’s biggest problem as the team is giving up 101 points per game, a staggering nine point increase from last year’s 92 points per contest. As the third leading scoring team in the league with 107 points, the Lakers should be able to scorer well over the century mark in tonight’s game.
What You Need To Know:
Despite the hype that always surrounds a Kobe-LeBron match-up, games between the two teams usually come down to the other players. As much as the sports world wants to make the superstar pair a rivalry, Bryant and James are friends both on and off the court, with each holding a mutual respect for one another’s game. Case and point: In the Cavs’ 99-90 victory over the Lakers last February, James only scored 18 points in their last meeting as a total of four other Cleveland players scored at least nine points. Last season, LeBron even went so far as to say that he admired Kobe’s “killer instinct” — something he admitted he is still working on.
The Cavaliers are coming off a humiliating 108-90 loss to the lowly New York Knicks last night and should be more pumped up than usual to remove the bad taste in their mouths pronto. LeBron James — the NBA’s scoring leader — got his usual 32 points, but Drew Gooden was the only other Cleveland player to reach double digits, barely doing so with 11 points.
In the past few years, young Laker teams have fallen privy to letting down-in-the-dumps teams like the Cavs resurrect themselves at their expense. However, as Phil Jackson has pointed out on countless occasions, the mark of a good team is one that kicks their opponents when they’re done — something the Lakers have an opportunity to do tonight.