As a Laker fan, I've known full well that the next time that Kobe and Shaq meet up again was while we are preparing to eat our Christmas feast. It isn't the only game to care about....but it is the only game that allows for a temporary closure of the entire Laker Saga.
I say temporary...because whether they like it or not...Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal will always be placed next to each other in the legends of their greatness. Neither has won a NBA Finals game without the other one. The photos and TV moments of that Lake Show Era feature images of Shaq and Kobe celebrating together. And until one does so without the other one....it seems that they will forever be intertwined.
Of course, Kobe has never "beaten" Shaq. In the three games they've faced each other as opponents....two as Lakers-Heat and the All Star Game....Shaq has come away on the winning team. Of course, in these regular season games Miami has had the better team. Kobe's second mate is Lamar Odom. Shaq's is Dwayne Wade. Miami is one of the favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals. The Lakers are just trying to get to the postseason.
But, lo and behold, which team is better right now?? Statistically...the Lakers are. Entering this game, the Miami Heat are 15-12 [and they do lead the sad Southeast Division]. The Los Angeles Lakers are 15-11...just a game back of the Clippers in the Pacific. Yeah, the Lakers have the better record.
Since these two teams last met....much has changed. For the Lakers, they got back Phil Jackson...the coach that Shaq himself said that he'd only ever play for. The roster has changed a bit....with Smush Parker and Kwame Brown joining the Lakers and Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins now in DC.
In Miami...a lot has changed. For a team that was one quarter away from the NBA Finals, Miami essentially blew up the team. They brought in Jason Williams, Gary Payton, Antoine Walker among others. And they have hiredback their previous head coach. Stan Van Gundy "resigned" to allow Pat Riley to come down fron the front office to mold this team in his championship image.
Pat Riley, like Phil Jackson, last won a championship as a Lakers head coach. Of course, Phil won in 2002....Riley last won in 1988. While Phil's biggest star mans the paint for Riley now.....Riley's biggest stars are either in the ownership [Magic] or coaching [Kareem, Scott, Cooper]. James Worthy's doing commentary.
In fact, the day is filled with champions. Adding in Spurs' coach Greg Popovich [who play Detroit at noon], these coaches have won 16 NBA Championships....including 12 of the last 15....and 15 of the past 21. Of the 6 Finals in the past 21 years that these guys didn't win....three were won by the Detroit Pistons [who are playing the Spurs] and two were won by Rudy Tomjanovich's Rockets....and Rudy T was the Lakers' coach last Christmas.
Of course the only reason anyone will really be watching is to see (a) Shaq and Kobe meet each other at the tip off circle and (b) if Kobe is going to come down the lane and try to throw one down on Shaq. My feeling is that there will be a little tap at the circle and, yeah, Kobe will try it....but Shaq will foul the living crap out of him.
What about the game?? Again, Shaq and Kobe will be the marquee; Riley and Jackson will try to flash their genius out there as if it just oozes; the real battle will be Kobe v Wade; the future Laker center [Bynum] will be forced to play the old one [Shaq] due to Mihm picking up fouls like parents pick up mugs of coffee to watch their kids open Santa's gifts; and the hype that only this regular season game can bring [cuz, oh by the way, the Spurs and Pistons play earlier in the day].
So what will happen?? Will Kobe finally top Shaq?? Will Shaq show his old form and dominate in a fight he wants to win. Will Wade become the biggest star? Will a guy like Odom, Williams or Walker make the big play? Or will Kobe try to dump in 62 points for the 2nd time this week.
Tune in to find out!!!
As for me...I am picking the Lakers to win 91-87 [and I don't have any rose colored glasses on]. The Lakers are one of the NBA's best road teams[at 9-5...only the Pistons and Mavericks are better away from their homes]. And while Miami has won 5 of 7....their two losses were to legit conteders [Nets, Cavs] and their wins were over the Wizards, Bulls, Bucks, Sixers and Hawks [they are a combined 9 games under .500]....they've struggled this year and are coming off a game where Vince Carter torched them for 51 points.