The Lakers continue crawling back into the playoff picture.
A 2-1 week, coupled with losses by Utah and Golden State, certainly helped their cause.
The Lakers lost a difficult game in Denver, 119-108, in which Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 29 points.
Returning home for a quick two-game home stand, the Lakers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves handedly, 116-94. The Lakers followed up that win with an exciting victory over the Atlanta Hawks, 99-98.
With their 2-1 record last week, the Lakers made it back to the .500 mark at 30-30, for the first time since December 28th.
With only 22 games left on the regular season schedule, the Lakers are currently just 2 games back of the Utah Jazz for the 8th seed in the Western Conference.
Take a look back now at the changes in the Lakers’ stock values and the impact the players should have going forward:
Kobe Bryant : Even at his elderly age of 34, Kobe Bryant continues playing spectacular basketball.
Bryant even gave the Lakers’ faithful some fireworks late in the win over the Hawks. (If you haven’t seen the play yet, you better just click ‘Play’ below):
Bryant’s exceptional play of late is a testament to his work ethic, diet and determination to make the playoffs.
After the Lakers’ win over the Timberwolves, Bryant had this to say about his mindset:
“I’ve been in attack mode since the [All-Star] break,” Bryant said. “It’s go time.”
It’s certainly been “go time” lately.
Along with his spectacular plays this past week, Bryant was also named the Western Conference Player of the Month for the month of February.
Bryant averaged 23.9 ppg on 48.9% shooting, 6.6 apg and 6.7 rpg in February to be named Player of the Month.
Coming off the award this past week, Bryant topped those averages. In the past three games, Bryant averaged 32.0 ppg on an efficient 52.8% shooting, 6.0 apg and 5.7 rpg.
With Bryant now in full “attack mode”, and the Lakers playing better team-basketball, the rest of the league should be on notice.
Bryant also created a new self-proclaimed nickname for himself this week; the new nickname is ‘Vino’—Spanish and Italian for wine, since he seems to get better with age.
Antawn Jamison : The Lakers’ sixth-man has officially returned to his old self. Antawn Jamison is playing the most consistent basketball right now of any Laker not named Kobe.
Jamison averaged 13.7 ppg on 50% shooting and 6.3 rpg. Jamison’s scoring ability has been a huge boost off the bench for the Lakers.
With Pau Gasol still out for another 2+ weeks, Jamison’s consistency has helped keep the Lakers afloat in his absence.
Jamison’s ability to find creases in the defense and move without the ball earned him an endearing nickname from his fellow teammate.
Bryant, who has had a field day of creating nicknames this week, gave Jamison the nickname ‘cockroach’ because he “keeps finding the cracks”.
Jamison, who has averaged 19 points per game for his career, finally seems comfortable in Los Angeles. A defined role and consistent minutes have yielded great performances from Jamison.
This past week, Jamison also gave some insight on what has been the Lakers’ deciding factor in their recent turnaround.
Steve Blake : Another player who seems to have found his comfort zone is Steve Blake.
Since Blake’s return on January 29th, the Lakers have gone 11-5 in that stretch.
Blake’s scoring has been an added bonus to the bench unit, but his ability to control the tempo has been key. When Steve Nash goes to the bench, Blake’s ability to control the pace and keep the offense flowing has been important.
Over the past week, Blake averaged 8.0 ppg on 66.7% shooting and 40% from three, 5.0 apg and 3.7 rpg.
Blake’s return to the lineup has had a direct impact on players like Jodie Meeks and Jamison. His ability to create plays for himself and his teammates was something the Lakers dearly missed earlier in the year.
Dwight Howard : Dwight Howard didn’t have the best week offensively, but his defensive presence and rebounding were key in the Lakers’ wins.
Howard only averaged 12.3 ppg, but did average 14.0 rpg in his past three games. The Lakers certainly need Howard to be more dominant in the paint on offense, but those rebounding numbers are promising.
Howard looks to be recovering from both his back and shoulder injuries. Although his torn labrum will not heal on its own, Howard has done a much better job playing through the pain.
Not only has Howard looked more “springy” lately, but he also seems to be getting some of his conditioning back. With a focused Howard on the defensive end and a focused Bryant on the offensive end, the Lakers’ attack should be deadly going forward.
Howard continues to struggle on post moves with his back to the basket, however, so he should instead focus more on rolls to the basket and easy put backs off offensive rebounds.
The Lakers need more than 12 points a game from Howard, but if he continues patrolling the paint like he’s been doing, the Lakers should be fine.
Steve Nash : Despite an off shooting night in the Lakers’ win over Minnesota, Steve Nash completed the week with a solid performance against Atlanta.
Nash shot just 4-12 from the field against the Timberwolves, but did contribute 7 assists in the win.
Nash followed up that performance with a stellar game against the Hawks. Nash scored 15 points and dished out 10 assists, which led to a victory.
The main issue hampering Nash of late has been turnovers. Nash had six turnovers in the loss to the Nuggets and five turnovers against the Hawks.
The Lakers, who have been hampered by turnover problems all season long, need to cut down on them in the future.
When the Lakers play quick, athletic teams, they especially have to limit their mistakes and clean up their protection of the ball.
Limiting the turnovers starts with the point guard, and Nash must take it upon himself to take better care of the ball going forward.
Metta World Peace : This past week Metta World Peace seemed to climb out of his shooting slump some.
World Peace scored 15 points on an efficient 54.5% shooting against the Nuggets. He followed up that efficient shooting with a poor shooting display of 2-7 against Minnesota.
World Peace was especially key in the Lakers win over the Hawks, however. The Lakers’ strongest perimeter defender helped slow down both Josh Smith and Al Horford on the defensive end.
In combination with his solid defense, World Peace also scored 13 points on 62.5% shooting. This efficient shooting was key, especially late in the fourth quarter, when World Peace made an important three-pointer to keep the game close.
With Bryant, Nash, Blake and Jamison playing efficiently on the offensive end, defensives will begin to adjust by keying-in on those players. World Peace can be the ultimate beneficiary of this, if he can end his slump and shoot the ball consistently.
Jodie Meeks : Backup shooting guard Jodie Meeks had yet another inconsistent week. Despite scoring 16 points against Minnesota, Meeks did little in the Lakers’ other two games.
Meeks, the Lakers’ most proficient three-point shooter, did shoot 42.9% from three-point land, but his one point performance against Atlanta is unacceptable.
Both Jamison and Blake have found consistency producing when coming off the bench, so if Meeks can find that consistency as well, the Lakers’ bench will be that much better.
Although Meeks has been playing well of late, averaging 9.0 ppg in his past 10 games, the Lakers could use more production from behind the arc.
Bryant’s high level of play alleviates the pressure off Meeks, but if Meeks can match some of Bryant’s production, it could help reduce the minutes of the NBA’s minutes-played leader and save Bryant’s legs.
Earl Clark : It seems that Earl Clark has finally come back down to Earth.
After a breakout January and a solid early-February, Clark has struggled in his last few games.
Clark averaged just 6.3 ppg and 4.0 rpg over the past week. These numbers need to improve from the Lakers’ starting power forward going forward.
It’s obvious that opposing defenses have started to figure out Clark’s game and have adjusted accordingly. The onus now falls on Clark to make his adjustment and return to his productive form.
The key to Clark’s early success was his unrelenting desire to grab offensive reb0unds and attack the rim. Clark’s low rebounding numbers have had a direct impact on his recent poor play.
Until Gasol returns, the Lakers desperately need Clark to return to form and continue attacking the rim. Clark, one of the few young, athletic players on the Lakers, gives the team a different dimension.
This dimension is important because it allows the Lakers to play at multiple paces and keep the ball flowing quickly on offense.
If Clark can return to even half of what he once was, the Lakers could be real, real scary.
Chris Duhon : Chris Duhon played 6 minutes against Minnesota in garbage-time. Duhon did record 3 assists in his short time on the floor, however.
Coach Mike D’Antoni seems set on his eight-man rotation now and Duhon is on the outside looking in.
Robert Sacre : Robert Sacre is in the same predicament as Duhon. Sacre only played against Minnesota as well, registering 4 points and 1 rebound in 5 minutes of play.
Darius Morris : Darius Morris played 5 minutes against the Timberwolves too, registering 1 assist and 1 rebound.
Devin Ebanks : With the Minnesota game out of reach late in the fourth quarter, even the rarely used Devin Ebanks got a chance to play. Ebanks played 2 minutes but did score 2 points and grab 3 rebounds in his first opportunity to play since February 7th.
Pau Gasol : Pau Gasol continues his rehabilitation from the partially torn plantar fascia he suffered on February 5th.
Gasol has ramped up his rehab some by doing cardio work on the elliptical machine this week. Gasol is now four weeks into his 6-8 week estimate, so he could possibly return as early as two weeks from now.
Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers continue chasing a playoff berth battling Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Toronto and Chicago.