The Big Picture: The Los Angeles Lakers have reached that plane the Spurs used to occupy, where they play very well during the regular season, content to know they'll make the playoffs even if they go half-speed, but still play at about 95% in order to garner a high seed. And the crazy part of it is everyone knows they're one of the three best teams in the league, even if they're not playing like it.
For their part, the Bobcats seem to have developed an identity as a schizophrenic bunch that hangs with the league's elite one night, then bombs against the league's cupcakes later that week. Part of that is Stephen Jackson's ups and downs. Part of it is just random fluctuation. But in the end, it'll all even out, and this 35-win pace is wholly deserved.
A win against the Lakers would be fantastic, but in the end I'm much more interested about what the game might tell us about the Cats moving forward. That is to say, it's not a test of what the team might do come playoff time, but more yet another test of what individual players are made of.
Musical Interlude: Arcade Fire -- "Rebellion (Lies)"
Key to Victory: I'm not as worried about Kobe Bryant as I am about Andrew Bynum and (especially) Pau Gasol running roughshod over our assortment of bigs. Jack, Gerald Wallace, and even Gerald Henderson are as suited to guarding him as anyone else. But guarding the bigs is a different issue. If Tyrus Thomas was around, I'd feel fairly good about sticking him on either Lamar Odom or Gasol, depending on the Lakers' lineup, but Wallace simply doesn't have enough size to deal with Gasol, and Boris Diaw doesn't have the size to deal with Bynum. Thus, we're pretty much stuck taking our chances with Kwame Brown or Nazr Mohammed in the lineup for most of the game, when it's probably preferable for us to go small, with Crash in the front court with Diaw. If Kwame or Nazr can hold his own against Bynum, and perhaps even render him irrelevant, that pushes things in our favor.
Detail That May Interest .08% of You: Phil Jackson is the best-known player to come out of North Dakota and play in the NBA. During his final year there, he put up a 27/14. The only other player from the University of North Dakota to get NBA minutes? Jerome Beasley, who got 5 minutes split between two games for Miami back in 2003, scoring 2 points and grabbing 1 rebound.