For those of you that are new around here, “No Game Is an Island” is the game preview feature here at The Two Man Game. Here’s an excerpt of my explanation from the very first installment:
“No [game] is an Island, entire of itself; every [game] is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any [game]’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in [Fan]kind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”
-John Donne, with a little help from yours truly
No Game is an Island will be the gameday previews here at The Two Man Game. The goal is to establish context for each contest; after all, “every game is a part of the main.” Rather than focusing on each individual contest, the emphasis will be on identifying the importance of games in larger contexts, identifying symbolism and archetypes, and declaring the trends and implications of each of these “almost meaningless” regular season battles. Enjoy.
The Dallas Mavericks visit the Los Angeles Lakers
Ready or not, the Mavs are hitting the big stage tonight against the reigning champs. Early prediction: Dirk Nowitzki will score, JET will bounce back, Rodrigue Beaubois will not play.
You guys have the distinct privilege of reading Mavs-centric musings on this blog, but let me take a minute to wax Lakers. They are, without doubt, among the most talented teams in the league. But even more interesting than the superlative displays of athletic skill is how that team came to be assembled, and how they operate within the context of that particular team.
Two young guards, with very different stories. Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar don’t typically lead pieces about L.A., but I find it both baffling and awesome that what is probably the best team in basketball doesn’t have a point guard that could even be considered average. Derek Fisher hits corner threes and doesn’t turn the ball over too much, but only finds success these days because of his familiarity with the triangle offense, and with the wants and demands of both Kobe and Phil. Meanwhile, Brown and Farmar share minutes at the back-up point, with the long time L.A.-er Farmar being marginalized by the day. He clearly has talent, and for a spell he seemed the heir apparent for the point guard position based on his ability to hit the open three, swing the ball, and dribble just the right amount. But sometime between his semi-emergence and Adam Morrison’s grand entrance to the City of Angels, Farmar fell out of favor. It wasn’t a drop in his level of play or a public trade demand, but as if some internal cauldron of dissatisfaction had finally boiled over. A decently talented point guard prospect was suddenly going by the wayside, and no one managed a second glance.
Enter Shannon Brown. Brown was a B-lister in the swap of mega-stars Adam Morrison and Vladamir Radmonovic, and it wasn’t until he stood on the STAPLES floor that he was truly appreciated for what he is: a high-flying, tough defending point guard that may seem limited in most basketball contexts, but could actually be remarkably good within Jackson’s (err, Tex Winter’s) triangle. He’s already greatly improved as a 3-point shooter, and Brown’s status as a defensive stand-out is what earns him brownie points with the coaching staff. Oh, and by the way, the dude can rock the damn rim. But from the perspective of Farmar, who by all indications is hard-working, well-serving, good guy athlete, Brown has to play the villain. There can only be one main man (even if, for the moment, neither qualifies), and Los Angeles just isn’t big enough for the two of them. Both are very talented, but they couldn’t be more different, and the powers that be have aligned those two teammates firmly in opposition to each other.
Just for fun, contrast with Lamar Odom and Ron Artest. They’re a couple of old pals, but their paths have taken them across the league and back. For Lamar, he’s faced a lifetime of disappointed fans who were looking for the all the wrong things. On top of that, his personal story may be one of the NBA’s darkest but also brightest, as a guy so undeserving of tragedy was written into the middle of one with a smile on his face. But Lamar’s basketball story has long echoed with the natural resentment of the “talent gone wrong” theme, if for no other reason than versatility upstaging dominance. He took a lap around the league by going coast to coast from L.A. to Miami, and his career came geographically full circle with his “return” to the Lakers. But as these stories are ought to do, Lamar’s career didn’t turn up roses the second he suited up purple and gold. There were trials. There were troubles. There were trade rumors and fights, quotes tossed here and there, and emotional responses. It seems so trite to say that Odom is happily ever after with a championship trophy, but that ‘Ship was redemption for him more than anyone. We’ve known that Kobe Bryant was good, and that if he had more talent around him, he could win. Boom, Pau Gasol, game-set-match. We knew that Pau was good, but some questioned his toughness after his disappearance in the Finals prior. He proved that and then some against the beastly bigs of the playoffs, but that was less a narrative than a one-line argument. L.O.’s story is much more complex, but he came up in a big way against Orlando. The reason the Lakers won wasn’t merely because they were a better team, but because Lamar Odom’s versatility overcame the powers of conventional wisdom. Andrew Bynum represents that wisdom, and as a traditional center, Bynum faltered. He was borderline useless. It was only through Odom’s characteristically off-kilter game that the Lakers were able to take what was rightfully theirs.
It’s only fitting that in the aftermath of Odom’s ultimate redemption, his friend Ron Artest is there to share in the glory and maybe earn some of his own. Artest, too, has seen his way around the league, with the Bulls and the Pacers, the Kings and the Rockets. He’s been labeled a stopper, a scorer, a winner, a malcontent, a lunatic, and a million other things in between. Ron’s basketball story has long echoed with the natural resentment of the “talent gone wrong” theme, if for no other reason than unpredictability upstaging dominance. Ron’s story with the Lakers obviously has yet to be written, but to me it smells eerily like Odom’s. But rather than crafting a L.A.-centric novel, Ron opted to begin his story elsewhere, building up to the climax in cities and systems around the league before taking a final act in the best way he knows how: with all eyes on him. Like Farmar and Brown, Odom and Artest are the same. They more or less play the same position, and they share characteristics if not outright struggles. But these guys are friends. Los Angeles has always had room for one more, even if people thought the Lakers did not.