Best in the East?
Perfect 80 degree weather and the NFC Championship game (see: Kobe’s insistence that his Eagles t-shirt hang from his locker) didn’t keep the Lakers out of the gym on Sunday afternoon, not with LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers coming into town on Monday.
Cleveland is perhaps the last, if not the best, contender for the championship trophy that the L.A. has yet to play. After all, the purple and gold have already seen Boston, Orlando, San Antonio, New Orleans, Utah and Houston (and even Denver and Phoenix).
Why are the 31-7 Cavs so dangerous? The very obvious answer is LeBron’s 27.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.3 blocks and All-First Team defense.
“(James has) made some improvements, in terms of protecting the lane, getting out in passing lanes, but he’s his usual stellar self,” said Kobe Bryant after practice. “I’m a big fan of his … I think he’s terrific.”
Kobe conceded that LeBron’s Olympic experience probably helped spur his defense on this season, and also said that he will “definitely” guard James at times during Monday’s game.
But it’s anything but a one-man team in Cleveland … LeBron’s been boosted by the presence of Mo Williams – a free agent acquisition from Milwaukee – who has taken some of the ball-handling pressure off James, and is a terrific perimeter shooter.
“He’s a big help, a legitimate scoring threat,” said Kobe of Williams. “He’s a person you have to identify, and we played him last year when he was in Milwaukee and he gave us fits.”
Throw in some other smooth shooters like Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, Booby Gibson and Sasha Pavlovic, plus three bigs who play good defense – Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao – and your squad’s looking strong to quite strong.
On Monday, however, the Cavs will be without two starters: Ilgauskas, who’s been on the shelf with a bad ankle, and West, who broke his wrist against Chicago last week.
Walton Goes Through Full Practice, But Won’t Start
Luke Walton completed his first full practice since missing the last eight games due to his foot injury.
“You can run all day but until you’ve actually played defense, switched, gone over screens and rebounded, it’s not the same,” said Walton. “It felt great, it didn’t hurt at all.”
Though Walton was very effective against Cleveland last season, Phil Jackson will continue to start Vladimir Radmanovic.
“Last year, I thought Luke did a really good job on (James) when he played him,” said Jackson. “(But) he’s still feeling his way a little bit.”
Sasha Finds Shooting Touch
Phil Jackson liked what he saw from Sasha Vujacic at Sunday’s practice: “He was shooting the ball (well) and looks like he’s back in rhythm,” explained the coach.
“I’m glad he said that,” said Vujacic. “It’s definitely good to be back … I’m feeling good. (The Lakers training staff) has been huge in getting me ready to play, and I’m 100 percent right now.”
With Vujacic and Walton both feeling much better, L.A. finally has 13 players healthy, and is waiting only on Farmar to boast its full complement of players.