Once the Lakers second round opponents were set, I decided to hit up one of the better known Lakers fans in the blogosphere for a little Q&A session. For those that don’t already check out With Malice on a regular basis, you should. It’s run by a guy called Don Landrigan, an Aussie who now lives in Japan, loves the NBA, and loves his Lakers even more. Just what did he think about the upcoming series with Yao, Ron-Ron and the Rockets? Through the powers of electronic mail I was able to find out.

Q – The Lakers swept the season series with the Rockets 4-0, and each of those games was pretty comfortable. Do you read much into that? Is this a “perfect” match-up for the Lakers?

I don’t know about “perfect”, as in the playoffs all bets are off, but it’s a better match-up for us than Portland.  The Blazers have a very good level of athleticism that matches up well with LA.  And then there’s the Rose Garden hoodoo… I have no idea what’s going on with that.  Portland/LA might have been a lot of fun – the ‘Zers fans REALLY hate LA (again, no idea what’s going on with that!)… but I’m glad we got Houston.  LA have the combined length to trouble the Rockets.  And Kobe seems to really enjoy playing against Ron-ron.

Q – I’ve heard a lot of people talk up this series as Yao vs Bynum. Just how much of an impact do you think Andrew Bynum will have in this series, and how do you see him faring against Yao?

In the Portland series, no-one talked too much of “Yao-vs-Oden”, primarily because it’s unfair – Oden’s a young center just starting to come into his own.  Same can be said of Bynum (he’s only 3 months older than Oden).  But… Bynum’s important against Yao, but no-one’s expecting him to do it alone.  Gasol will get time on The Ming Dynasty, and Mbenga will see a little of that assignment too. Yao’s probably the best center in the NBA at the moment, it’s a job for several Lakers.

Q – Recently Ron Artest has been quoted as saying Brandon Roy is the toughest guy he’s had to guard, even tougher than Kobe. Do you think he just made things a lot harder for himself by saying that? What can we expect from the Kobe vs Artest duel in this series?

Ha!  Ron’s just trying to get under Kobe’s skin with that.  Simply a pretty clumsy attempt at mind-games.  Artest should just leave that alone and play ball.  He lacks the necessary subtlety. It should be a good match-up tho’… but I don’t think Ron can stop Kobe, and I’d bet Shane Battier will line-up as the primary guy on Kobe.

Q – I’ve become a big fan of Shannon Brown. Did you foresee him playing such a big role for this team? And do you miss Jordan Farmar?

Even now, it’s become “the Shannon Brown trade”.  In his first game (in garbage time) with LA, he produced an incredible dunk.  Back then I stated I thought he’d end up being a steal due to his strength and athleticism.  He was a good match-up with Deron Williams, ShanWOW had the physicality that Farmar lacked in that tete-a-tete.  I predict we’ll see more of Farmar in this series than we did in the last… but it’s good to pick up a “diamond in the rough” with Brown’s ability, that’s for sure.  I’m pretty sure LA will be trying their damndest to retain his services. Just another case of Mitch Kupchak’s current string of “Midas touch”.

Q – Would it be fair to say Lamar Odom has been the Lakers ‘Playoff MVP’ so far?

Absolutely.  And I think Kobe would be thrilled that someone other than himself could be termed that. LO took last Finals’ criticism of his heart pretty seriously, and he’s been HUGE this season, doing whatever’s necessary.  Going to the bench at the beginning of the season when Phil asked.  Stepping into the breach when Bynum went down – and we didn’t miss a beat.  Then stepping down to the pine again when Bynum returned.  My favourite moment this season was when KG attempted to jaw Odom down, and Lamar got RIGHT in his grill.  Beautiful thing that it wasn’t Odom who walked away.  At that moment, right there, it was obvious how far he’s come as a player.

Q – How much do you worry about the Lakers inability to close out games and secure big leads? Is it a real issue or are we reading too much into it?

Way, way too much.  People look at it like it’s a new thing this playoffs.  Hell, it’s not even really a new malaise this season.  The Lakers have developed an unfortunate habit of taking a lackadaisical attitude with opponents they regard as, well… “lesser”.  They’ve played this way all season, yet amassed 65 wins, and very good victories over all of the major competitors for this season.  LA always bring their ‘A’ game against their ‘A-grade’ opponents.

Q – And finally, lets get your prediction for this series?

LA win, in 5.  Kobe’s the player of the series!

Thanks for your time Don. Here’s hoping we get a cracker series. As some breaking news, Kobe apparently has a sore throat and did not practice with the team today. He is listed as day-to-day, but I severely doubt he will miss Game 1. Kobe Bryant does not miss games because of a “sore throat”. In fact, he relishes it, because it gives him a chance to try and do this.

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