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The Golden State Warriors (20-27) will be hosting the Los Angeles Lakers (30-19) tonight at Oracle Arena in what promises to be a sellout and a wildly entertaining game. Warriors World reached out to David Murphy of Forum Blue and Gold (Lakers ESPN TrueHoop Affiliate blog) to discuss the game. Tip Off 7:30 pm (PDT).

J.M. Poulard, Warriors World: People laughed and ridiculed me in early January when I stated that the Los Angeles Lakers might very well represent the Western Conference in June when the NBA Finals start. They currently occupy the third spot in the west standings and have looked like an entirely different team when riding Bynum’s scoring and when they’ve put the ball into the hands of Ramon Sessions. Although it would be premature to pencil them into the Finals at this point, the possibility certainly exists.

On another note, against the Memphis Grizzlies the other night, Kobe Bryant did one of those patented Kobe Bryant things that just leaves you in awe: he caught the ball on the left side of the court, jab stepped two or three times, took a hard dribble to his right and then spun backwards to his left for a beautiful fade away jumper over the outstretched arms of Tony Allen. Nylon.

But this was the same game in which Success at Success at Success ended up on the bench late in the fourth quarter of a closely contested game; to which I ask: what’s your take on Kobe’s benching?

David Murphy, Forum Blue & Gold: Kobe’s benching has been one of the most perplexing recent issues. First, kudos to him for not blowing it up afterward. He told the press that it’s Coach Brown’s decision and that he won’t question it. I’m sure that a younger Kobe would have reacted much differently. As for the benching itself, all I can think is that it may have stemmed from his angry reaction when he came off the floor and sucker-punched a perfectly nice chair. Kobe was pissed that nobody got back on defense on the previous play, allowing for an easy layup that put the Grizzlies up by 14… Maybe Brown was displeased with Kobe’s anger, maybe Kobe said something that we don’t know about, maybe Brown was simply suggesting in an overt way, that Kobe himself should have gotten back. Who knows? But, it was an odd situation and not something you’d normally do to a superstar during a nationally televised home game. Brown’s been making strange substitutions all season long. This one ranks up there.

J.M. Poulard: The Kobe situation was intriguing but as you said, Bean did a great job of defusing the situation and turning it into a non-issue.

Shifting gears, Lakers fans this season have been rather unimpressed with the direction of the franchise under Jim Buss given the roster turnover, coaching change and what have you. It’s quite fascinating to see how fans of the Purple and Gold have grown accustomed to success whereas Warriors fans are now used to futility. And yet, make no mistake about it, Oracle Arena is always packed because the fans care. A lot.

Never has this been more clear than on the night Chris Mullin’s jersey was retired.

The fans cheered him on and showed their appreciation for what he did for the team, but once Warriors owner Joe Lacob picked up the microphone, the boos rained on him to the point that that I wondered if Lacob knew the meaning of the actual expression Make it Rain.

With Monta Ellis traded away for a productive but injured big man, one can understand why the fans feel a little cheated. They thought they were headed for the playoffs and it seemed to be well within the team’s sights, but Lacob had his eyes on the bigger picture; which is always a tough sell, especially after promises were made to the fans that the postseason was the goal for this season.

In a weird roundabout way, the Lakers and Warriors accomplished the same feat: they traded away one of their most popular players and technically got nothing that could help them compete this season.

The end result is that the Dubs are quite small up front and will have an extremely tough time matching up with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. If the Warriors have a chance tonight, it’s by goading Kobe Bryant to shoot. Indeed, if Richard Jefferson can get into Kobe’s ear and remind him how he posterized the Mamba in the 2002 NBA Finals, it may lead to Bean firing away and ignoring his big men. I know, wishful thinking.

So David, what can you tell me about the new Lakers backcourt?

David Murphy: I watched the Mullins jersey ceremony and was fairly stunned at the crowd’s reaction to Lacob. It was painful to watch. I get that they don’t like him, that they haven’t approved of the way he’s handling business but it sure made for a weird jersey night. Good thing that Mullin is so affable, I thought he did a great job of stepping in and trying to get things back on the right track. 

For Lakers fans, feelings about management have been largely tempered by the arrival of Ramon Sessions. The guy is exactly what the team needed – an infusion of energy at just the right time and a skill set that meshes nicely with our offense. Sessions may not be an elite guard, and his jumper is way streaky, but we finally have somebody who can pick and roll and to be honest, we weren’t getting a lot of production out of Fisher’s jumpers this season.

For me, there were two very separate scenarios at the trade deadline. I’m one of the few Luke Walton fans left on earth but he wasn’t going to get any playing time and his contract was a mini-albatross. Trading him, Kapono, and a pick for Sessions and Eyenga was a terrific deal. The Fisher for Hill trade left me flabbergasted. I don’t buy the financial argument one bit – Fish and Jordan Hill’s salary offset each other and we gave Houston cash as well. The other argument is the feeling that Fisher wouldn’t have been able to handle getting demoted and that’s a load of crap. The guy’s nothing if not professional and I would have been a lot more comfortable with him helping us from a backup position, as opposed to him helping OKC from a similar slot. I’m gonna be so flamed if he sinks a buzzer beater against us in the playoffs.

I’m not worried about Jefferson against Kobe tonight. The Mamba tends to do pretty well when he goes into a game feeling that he’s been previously slighted by someone about something. He’ll probably let any aggravation about being benched, play out in a perfect display of technical prowess and smart decision making. On the other hand, trying to predict the guy is fairly useless, which is part of the fun of it. 

J.M. Poulard: I truly believe that the Lakers will play well as a unit tonight and will even get a few cheers as Lakers routinely make it out to Oracle. The energy in the building should be terrific both and teams will probably play hard to start out the contest.

The one thing I’m curious to see is how Bryant defends Klay Thompson. It’s no secret that Kobe now likes to play the role of roamer on defense and dare the man he’s defending to take jumpers until he finally makes them. In the case of Thompson, he a good shooter and consequently might make a few early and then force the Mamba to press up on him and challenge his every move. If that happens, call me even more intrigued. We rarely get the opportunity these days to see Kobe defend at an elite level, a facet of his game that he chooses to only display in the late stretches of close games. But if challenged, well, we’re still waiting for #24 to back down from a challenge in his career.

One last note about Kobe, last week Rahat Huq of Red 94 (the Houston Rockets ESPN TrueHoop Affiliate blog) did an excellent job of pointing out that although Bryant is not the best player in the game, he certainly manages to look as though he is. His beautiful jumpers, his exquisite ballhandling and his basketball IQ make him one of the best players in the history of the league and yet for all of his accomplishments and accolades, it’s interesting that his longevity has become almost a non-story, kind of like Karl Malone late in his career.

I’ll let you conclude by answering this question: given his talent as well as the roster that Mitch Kupchak has built around Kobe, do you think this Lakers team can win the 2012 title?

David Murphy: That’s a great observation about Klay Thompson and I agree, absolutely. Bryant will be well served to defend him honestly. I’m a fan of Ireland and Thompson’s radio cast – the game’s on NBA TV tonight so I’ll probably catch it there, but I’ll be tempted to listen to Mychel and hear what he has to say about the match-up.

I’ve watched Kobe since he came into the league and it’s been such a pleasure. To me, he represents something that I find so special about this sport, that ability to be transcendent, to do things so extraordinary that time seems to slow or even freeze in the moment. I’m very conscious of his age and mileage, and look at each season as a bit of a minor miracle. His greatness isn’t as consistent anymore, but he’s like Ali, he’ll still come off the ropes with a blinding flurry.

That said, I think the Lakers can win it all this season, but they have to get to the finals first and OKC will have a lot to say about that. This seems like the year for the Thunder. They’ve had it together all season, and Brooks is a much better coach than Brown. The Lakers are going to have to be more consistently disciplined then they’ve shown, they’ll need to ride Bynum and he’ll need to show that he has the gas and the desire to go all the way.

Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them in the comments section or you can contact me by email at [email protected].