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Mike Trudell:Hey College Wolf, good to be with you my friend. The bottom line with this Lakers team is that they obviously have enough talent currently on the roster to win an NBA championship. I’m not sure that’s even debatable. The question with the Lakers is whether or not they’ll be able to get their team defensive concepts and effort level to the bar that’s been set by the Boston Celtics, and is at least currently being exhibited by the Cleveland Cavs. At times this season, the defense has been absolutely suffocating, but there have been perhaps more times when the D has suffered extended breakdowns, which is simply not something you see in Boston. While many have questioned the Lakers toughness this season, and particularly last season in the Finals, Kobe Bryant said that it is strength, not toughness, that the team occasionally lacks. Guys like Pau Gasol, Vladimir Radmanovic, Sasha Vujacic, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom and Jordan Farmar are simply not as physical as other players, and at times, the affects of that are seen on the court. But you also don’t want to take away L.A.’s gorgeous fast break and pretty version of the triangle, which calls for more finesse than brute strength. One remedy in my personal eye is for the Lakers to find more minutes for banger Josh Powell, who also happens to be a great shooter from 17-feet in.
CW: What’s “wrong” with Lamar Odom? Is he going to pick his game up? Should he be traded before the deadline? What’s the deal?
MT:No one here expects LO to be traded, and people aren’t even talking about it as the summer rumors have cooled. To be honest, Odom’s been much better in his last two games in particular after a tough road trip. Against the Suns on Wednesday, Odom notched nine boards, seven assists, two steals, a block and six points despite taking only three shots. The game before, he had 11 points, eight boards, two dimes and a steal, despite playing only 27 minutes in each contest. But when you look at Odom’s game, it’s not so much about the numbers as it is whether or not he’s able to be a leader on the second unit, to control its flow and to make sure his teammates are sharing the ball and not looking for personal numbers. I think many people are skeptical of Odom due to his rather mercurial nature, but what I’ve seen in two months is a guy who’s teammates really like him, enjoy playing with him and want to battle for him, which I think is more important than whether or not he’s personally 100 percent focused each night. Plus, he’s been good enough for Phil Jackson to leave him on the floor in fourth quarters despite having a bevy of talent available on the bench (including Bynum), so we should take that into account. One other point is that Odom’s the one guy who’s invaluable when other teams go really small (when Gasol and Bynum can’t play together).
CW: Who is the funniest/coolest Laker that you’ve gotten to know “behind the scenes”?
MT: This is a good question, and also a dangerous one because when you work for a team, you have to be very careful to separate the professional side of the job from the personal. What I mean is, there are some guys that I’ve gotten to know pretty well already off the court, but out of respect to the relationship and my position, those things really shouldn’t be written about. Essentially, I wouldn’t want to write about a guy when he feels like he’s “off the record.” BUT, I can still answer this question, because much of the stuff we do on Lakers.com is “behind the scenes” but still on the record. Here’s the easiest example: http://www.nba.com/lakers/news/081107lamarunplugged.html. Odom’s hilarious. Sasha Vujacic has also been consistently funny and cool, and we mess around on camera all the time as well: http://www.nba.com/lakers/news/081107lamarunplugged.html
CW: I’ve always wondered (and I’m sure I’m not the only one), but who is Kobe’s tightest/best buddies on the team?
CW: How do these guys act before the games – social? carefree? focused? relaxed?
MT:That really depends on the individual player. Kobe Bryant’s approach is much different to that of Sun Yue, who knows he’s most likely not going to play and therefore goes through an intense pregame workout. Guys like Lamar Odom are almost always carefree and social; guys like Derek Fisher are almost always focused. So however that guy is in general is usually how he is before the game, just like with the Timberwolves.
CW: What are some of the differences in the atmosphere in the Lakers locker room/practices/plane rides compared to the Wolves?
MT:As you might expect, the biggest difference is the winning. Not to rub any salt in those Wolves wounds – trust me, I’m still rooting for the team in a big way and those losses still hurt – but winning completely changes the culture around the office, the mood at practice, the atmosphere on the plane and so on and so forth. People in Minnesota that were there for the 2003-04 run could, I’m sure, vouch for those facts. A few other tangible differences are as follows: a) the media coverage, which is both more numerous and more interested, locally and nationally; b) the weather … just gorgeous, all the time; c) the security … Kobe attracts a crowd; and d) the lack of Dave Kelsey, Sonia Grover and other very well-informed rubes that I know well. To be honest with you, the travel is pretty similar for every NBA team, because you generally stay in the same hotels (Ritz Carlton’s, Four Season’s, etc.) and fly on a private charter, but I will say that the Lakers simply attract more attention, and sell out every road arena. Obviously.
MT: Yes I do … There are four players that I’ll exchange texts or e-mails with every other week or so. Like I alluded to before, I’m from Minnesota (Orono High School), spent two great years with the Wolves and really enjoyed the staff, players and fans, so I definitely still root for the team.
CW: Have you been able to see much of the Wolves this season? What’s your expert prognosis (or perhaps diagnosis)?
MT: I’ve been able to watch one game in person and the better parts of six or seven games on the NBA League Pass that I tape and check out when returning from Lakers games, and I have to say, it’s been really tough to watch. Not because they’ve been playing poorly in general or anything, but because I’m a fan and the fourth quarter struggles are painful. The good news is, the team’s certainly better than its record, and will continually get better as the season goes on and probably have a similarly strong second half of the season as was the case last year. Dave, you and I talked before the season, and it was obvious that the team could score but would struggle defensively. That’s what we’ve seen, and that’s why the team has lost games in the fourth quarter – it’s all about getting stops. Now, since the individual defenders aren’t terrific, Minnesota needs to play great team defense, and that’s been difficult with the plethora of lineups used, injuries and now a coaching change. Going forward, guys just need to know where to be to back each other up defensively, guarding “one and a half men” as coaches often say, and once the Wolves get there the wins will come along more frequently. I wouldn’t put it on Jefferson or Love’s defense on the block, or Foye or Miller’s failure to stop dribble penetration, but more to team defense principals.
Three other points:
- I think the players will respond better to McHale’s coaching style than Wittman’s, and will let the College Wolf handle the rest of that topic. (CW: The difference is night and day! Don’t make me further elaborate upon my dislike for Wittman’s coaching… no one has five hours to read all that tripe.)
- Crunch is the best mascot in the league, please enjoy him. (CW: Don’t forget “Air Crunch” and “Chomper”… they rock.)
- Khloe Kardashian vs. Adriana Lima is like Rick Rickert vs. KG. (CW: It’s like selling your Porsche because you won a brand new Ford Focus at the local Bingo Night Tournament.)
MT: The Wolves are good enough offensively to stay in the ballgame against the Lakers, so I don’t see the blowout that one might predict simply by putting the two records against each other. Last week in Sacramento, L.A. took the Kings lightly, and Sac responded by playing 48 minutes of intense basketball in a 113-101 win. The best way to beat the Lakers is to go small and spread the court, so if I were the Wolves I’d play Jefferson at the five, Love or Smith at the four, Gomes at the three, Miller at the two and Foye at the point, then run Jefferson and Love out of the high post on either elbow. With the floor spread as such, L.A. would have to pull Bynum way out of the paint, which is when the Lakers are at their most vulnerable point.
With all that said, there really isn’t any way that the Wolves are going to stop L.A. from scoring points. Minnesota has to play nearly a perfect game of 48-minute effort, and hope Kobe settles for perimeter jumpers, Gasol has his worst game of the season, Bynum isn’t being aggressive on the block … and on and on. Obviously, L.A. is simply much more talented at this stage of the game, so while I think it’ll be a better game than it looks like on paper, it’d be silly to predict an upset.
CW: Personally, I think it will be a blood-letting on Sunday. The Wolves are terrible no matter how you look at it on the road, and the Lakers are on a quest for a championship this season. For the most part, the Lakers have crushed lesser competition and shown no mercy. If the Wolves aren’t blowing fourth quarter leads, they are getting squashed in all facets from the get-go. The Wolves will struggle to match up with the Lakers at nearly every position. Big Al is great, and I love him, but he’s a sieve defensively. Yeah, he’ll get his points, but he’s going to be matched up against a great defender in Andrew Bynum. And how do we guard Pau Gasol? Craig Smith has been starting since McHale took over, but he will get abused if they match him up against the studly Euro. Does the second worst center in the NBA, Jason Collins get the start at center? (I’m not kidding, check his PER. The only Center worse is his brother!) That won’t help us much, as Al will would then have to guard the offensively gifted Gasol. No matter how you look at it, the Lakers will have massive mismatches in the post.
Foye has been playing very well lately, so we might have a slight (emphasis on slight), advantage at the point guard position. But Derek Fisher is a wily vet, and combined with the Lakers great team defense, I don’t see Foye winning the game by himself.
I haven’t even mentioned Kobe yet. How do we guard him? As you know, our best perimeter defender, Corey Brewer, has been lost for the season due to his ACL tear. Is Mike “the defensive gargoyle” Miller going to guard Kobe? Maybe McCants? If either is the case, Kobe will drop 50 points by half-time and I’ll be able to go to bed early for once.
As you know, I have an unhealthy obsession love Gomes. But he’s certainly not a player that can carry a team to victory on his own. I’m sure he’ll do his part to contribute, but due to the overwhelming advantage the Lakers have in overall talent, I don’t see Gomes as being enough to bring home the victory.
I’m not even going to talk about the Phil Jackson -vs- Kevin McHale coaching matchup, because it makes me want to sob myself to sleep just thinking about it.
I guess all I ask is that it’s a competitive game. And the Wolves have been playing harder and more competitively for McHale the past few games. So who knows, maybe I’m completely, utterly off-base and the Wolves will give the Lakers a run for their money. I just don’t want to see us lose by 40, because it could happen.