Thunder vs Lakers Meet in Potential 2012 Conference Finals Preview
Turner Sports’ latest promo slogan is “We Know Drama.” Well, The second game of tonight’s TNT NBA double-header will certainly be full of drama from many different angles. Not only will it mark the return of Derek Fisher to the STAPLES Center in an (38-12, Road: 16-8) Oklahoma City Thunder uniform, but the (31-19, Home: 20-4) Los Angeles Lakers, themselves, have some internal issues going on.
This potential Western Conference Finals preview is scheduled to tip off tonight at 10:40 PM ET following the NBA Finals rematch between the Dallas Mavericks vs Miami Heat at 8 PM ET.
What’s a good Hollywood Lake Show without some drama? There’s so much of that going around in the Lakers locker room these days that Martin Scorsese may want to build a script around it for an action, suspense, thriller… perhaps recruit Jack sitting courtside?
It appears that first-year Lakers coach Mike Brown is having a difficult time not only getting his players to buy into his system, but also in dealing with the egos that come with coaching a team of All-Stars.
On Sunday’s disappointing loss to Memphis, Brown decided to bench the NBA’s current leading scorer and 5-time NBA champion, Kobe Bryant during a nationally televised game on ESPN.
Bryant appeared to be upset with his teammates who were flat and unmotivated against a determined Grizzlies squad. Punching a chair on his way to the bench during the fourth quarter, a visibly upset Bryant would be forced to sit and watch, while the Lakers fell apart in the deciding moments of the game.
It was truly a bizzarre scene. It was the equivalent to seeing the New York Yankees take out Mariano Rivera in the 9th inning of a close game because he was too demonstrative. The story dominated NBA headlines around the world despite the fact that both Brown and Kobe did their best to downplay the incident.
“It’s his decision to make. He makes the decisions. He’s the coach. If you guys are looking for a story, I’m not going to give you one.” Bryant told reporters as he stood by his locker. “I can’t sit here and criticize his decisions. As the leader of this ballclub, that’s something I can’t afford to do. I’ve had his back the whole season, so I can’t start doing something crazy now.”
Brown took a similar approach as Bryant, but completely avoided giving away the season why he would bench No.24 during the time he usually shines. When asked about his decision to bring in Metta World Peace for the Black Mamba, Brown danced around his motives:
“I just decided to make a sub. I felt that I wanted to make a sub at the time and I did,” he said. “There was not one particular thing. I just made the sub with Metta, sat [Bryant] for a couple of minutes and tried to get back to him [later].”
But just a couple of nights later — as the Lakers visited the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night — Brown found himself in a similar situation. In a game that was pretty close throughout, Lakers’ 2012 All-Star, Andrew Bynum pulled up for a three pointer with plenty of time remaining on the shot clock. Needless to say that Brown yanked him out of the game, and also made him sit for an extended amount of time for his actions.
Although the Lakers would go on to win the game, much of the talk, was again, about Brown’s struggles to manage the personalities on this team. But perhaps Browns might have rubbed his players the wrong way with his second authoritative move, as he did not get the same result from his 7-footer in the locker room. A defiant Bynum explained why he thought his coach had benched him for such a long time:
“I guess don’t take 3’s is the message. But I’m going to take some more,” he told reporters after the Lakers 104-101 win over the Warriors. “I don’t know what was bench-worthy about the shot, to be honest with you. I made one last [game] and wanted to make another one. I swear that’s it. I guess [coach Brown] took offense to it and he put me on the bench.”
What was Brown’s response to Bynum’s comments? Well, let’s just say the 2009 NBA Coach of the Year didn’t change his stance about Bynum’s ill-advised shot. In fact, his rebuttal was a clear message to everyone on the team that those who decide to play outside of the offense, should expect to grab some pine… no exceptions!
“If I feel like I have to take him out the game again, I’ll take him out the game,” he replied. “If I don’t feel like he’s playing the right way, I’ll take him out the game. I didn’t feel like he was playing the right way. I didn’t feel like we were playing the right way as a club when he was on the floor. That’s why I took him out the game.”
With the Thunder coming in tonight — and with two more meetings before the regular season expires — it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens when the LA face the best this league has to offer. One can certainly say that this is what the Lakers will miss the most by deciding to trade a guy like Fisher, who makes his LA debut in a Thunder uniform tonight.
Lakers fans can simply hope that much like the drama between Shaq and Kobe from back in the day — or Bryant and Phil after the Zen Masters’ book, and so on and so forth — this team will also find a way to win and succeed on the court in spite of it all. Like they say: winning fixes everything! Tonight’s game will be a good barometer of where this Lakers’ team stands in terms of mimicking some of its predecessors.