Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images
Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images
Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images

The Lakers are back in the playoff picture!

Finally, after a 3-1 week with wins over New Orleans, Toronto and Chicago, the Lakers have jumped to the 8th seed in the Western Conference.

The Lakers began the week with a tough loss in Oklahoma City, 122-105. In that game, the Lakers conceded 71 points in the first half and were never able to comeback from the early deficit.

The next night, the Lakers conceded 67 points in the first half for another dismal start in New Orleans. The Lakers eventually fell behind by 25 points, but thanks to a 20-0 run to close out the game, they roared back to win 108-102.

Returning home for a quick two-game home stand, the Lakers continued their trend of falling behind early. Thanks to some late-game heroics from Kobe Bryant, however, the Lakers pulled out a win, 118-116 in overtime.

The Lakers finally broke their habit of suffering early deficits by controlling the full game against the Chicago Bulls. A dominant paint presence by Dwight Howard helped the Lakers beat the injury-riddled Bulls by a score of 90-81.

With their three wins this weak, the Lakers are now two games over .500 with a record of 33-31.

With only 18 games left in the 2013 regular season, the Lakers currently hold the 8th seed in the West, but are only a 1/2 game ahead of the Utah in the standings.

Take a look back now at the changes in the Lakers’ stock values and the impact the players should have going forward:

Kobe Bryant Up arrow : Kobe Bryant, or ‘Vino’ as he now calls himself, is having arguably the best stretch of his 17-year career. At 34 years old, Bryant averaged 33.0 points per game, 7.0 assists per game, and 5.8 rebounds per game this past week.

Bryant also shot 50.6% from the field and 58.9% from three-point range.

Bryant had back-to-back spectacular games against New Orleans and Toronto. He was the main catalyst in the Lakers’ terrific 20-0 run, scoring 42 points and dishing out 12 assists to lead the team to victory.

Bryant followed up that performance with a similar one against Toronto— 41 points, 12 assists and 6 rebounds. Hitting remarkable shots late, Bryant’s play helped the Lakers come out on top in overtime.

The greatness of Bryant’s seemingly ‘superhuman’ abilities is capsulated below:

Bryant’s unmatched determination is the main reason why the Lakers have crawled back into the playoff race.

This recent stretch of excellent play did not come easy for Bryant, however. Bryant struggled finding a balance between scoring and facilitating earlier this season.

It seems that Bryant has now found this elusive balance between over-shooting and over-facilitating. As shown by his efficient scoring and passing, Bryant’s leadership of this Lakers team has reached a new level.

Despite suffering an ulnar nerve contusion in his right elbow against Oklahoma City, Bryant overcame the adversity to lead his team to another terrific week.

Dwight Howard Up arrow : Along with Bryant’s superb play, Dwight Howard has also picked up his play since the All-Star break. Howard’s control of the glass and defensive paint were especially key in all three Lakers victories.

Photo: Stacy Revere | Getty Images
Photo: Stacy Revere | Getty Images

Howard averaged 16.5 ppg, 16.3 rpg and 3.3 blocks per game over this past week. Howard’s consistent scoring has been icing on the cake in concert with his elevated focus on the defensive end.

If Howard can continue controlling the boards on both ends of the floor, the Lakers should continue to flourish.

The main issue that has hampered Howard of late is foul trouble. With Pau Gasol still out with a foot injury, Howard needs to be on the floor for the Lakers to be successful.

Howard looks much healthier since the All-Star break, however. His legs seem to be coming back now and his explosive finishing ability is improving.

A focused Howard, matched by a hungry Bryant, will be the key to any Lakers playoff push.

Steve Nash Up arrow : As Howard and Bryant understand how to play with each other more, Steve Nash has also started to settle into his role.

Nash significantly increased his scoring load this past week, averaging 15.8 ppg on 48.9% shooting from the floor.

With Bryant dominating the ball on offense, the two-time MVP has been forced to change his approach. Nash seems to be making this transformation now and his scoring has clearly benefited.

Nash’s three-point shooting ability has also helped open up the floor for the Lakers’ big men. Nash shot 50% from three-point range this week, including 4-6 threes against Toronto.

The Lakers are finally playing their best basketball of the season, and Nash’s sacrifice in playing off the ball has had a huge impact on this turnaround.

Jodie Meeks Up arrow : With consistent playing time off the bench, Jodie Meeks has become a solid contributor on both ends of the floor.

Photo: Gerald Herbert | AP
Photo: Gerald Herbert | AP

Meeks’ three-point shooting was deadly this week, as he shot 55.6% from behind the arc.

Benefitting from Bryant’s facilitating, Meeks hit five three pointers to help bring the Lakers back against New Orleans.

Although Meeks is an under-sized shooting guard, his fierce competitive nature has earned him the opportunity to play behind Bryant.

His lack of size was evident when Meeks was routinely isolated on the block against Toronto.

But his unrelenting intensity on the defensive end helped stop the Raptors late and seal the victory.

With Meeks finally shooting consistently from behind the arc, the Lakers’ offensive attack becomes scary.

Antawn Jamison even: After a solid few weeks off the bench for Antawn Jamison, his production sputtered some this week.

The Lakers’ sixth-man only averaged 7.3 ppg and 5.3 rpg over his last four games. In comparison, Jamison averaged 13.7 ppg on 50% shooting and 6.3 rpg last week.

Jamison’s scoring ability has been a huge boost off the bench for the Lakers this season, but they certainly need him to return to his double-digit scoring.

With Howard holding down the paint, Jamison should take advantage of his outside opportunities. Bryant’s penetration will continue to create opportunities for his teammates, and Jamison must capitalize.

Steve Blake even: Although Steve Blake has been playing well since returning from injury, Blake’s production slipped some this week.

Photo: Brett Deering | Getty Images
Photo: Brett Deering | Getty Images

The Lakers are 14-6 since Blake’s return on January 29th, but Blake only averaged 4.0 ppg this week.

Blake did average 5.0 apg over the last four games, however.

With Nash scoring the ball at a higher rate now, the onus on Blake to score may be lifted some.

That certainly doesn’t mean the Lakers wouldn’t welcome Blake’s scoring, but his role, as the bench’s “floor general”, is much more important at this point in the season.

Metta World Peace even: Another tough shooting week for Metta World Peace.

Although World Peace had been shooting the ball better last week, he returned to his inconsistent form this week.

World Peace averaged 10.3 ppg, but only shot 40.2% from the field and a dismal 27.5% from three-point range.

The consistent play of Bryant, Howard and Nash has created many scoring opportunities for World Peace.

As a result, the 6’9” small forward needs to start capitalizing on these opportunities. If he doesn’t, opposing defenses will shift their focus away from him, forcing him to hit shots.

Despite another shooting slump this week, World Peace’s defense was solid. World Peace played great defense late in the win over Toronto, limiting star Raptor Rudy Gay to just 2-15 shooting in the second half.

World Peace’s role on the Lakers is certainly not to be a prolific scorer, but they could certainly use more consistency from him going forward.

Earl Clark Down arrow : The biggest surprise of this season has officially hit a wall. After Earl Clark’s great January and February, he has struggled mightily in March.

Photo: Gerald Herbert | AP
Photo: Gerald Herbert | AP

Clark averaged 9.5 ppg, but only shot 25.2% from the field this week.

Clark’s rebounding numbers have also dipped recently, as he only averaged 5.5 rpg over the past four games.

The Lakers have to hope that Clark will return to his active, productive self once Gasol returns to the lineup.

The return of Gasol will hopefully relieve some of the pressure off Clark and help him become comfortable again.

In the meantime, however, the Lakers need Clark to bring more to the table on a nightly basis.

Clark seems to be struggling with opposing teams making adjustments. Earlier in the season, the Lakers’ starting power forward excelled because opposing teams just weren’t ready for him.

Now, with opposing defenses adjusting to his tendencies, Clark must make the counter-adjustments himself to return to the level of productivity he experienced earlier in the year.

Robert Sacre Down arrow : Robert Sacre appeared in limited minutes against Oklahoma City and New Orleans, but failed to score in either game.

Sacre has since been assigned to the Lakers’ developmental league-affiliate, the LA D-Fenders.

Darius Morris Down arrow : Darius Morris did not appear in a game this past week.

As he continues to receive little to no minutes on the Lakers’ bench, Morris was also assigned to the D-Fenders this week.

Chris Duhon Down arrow : Chris Duhon appeared only in “garbage-time” against Oklahoma City this week.

Photo: Pau Gasol | Twitter
Photo: Pau Gasol | Twitter

Devin Ebanks Down arrow : Devin Ebanks failed to appear in a game this week.

Pau Gasol Injury sign : Pau Gasol continues to make his recovery from his partially torn plantar fascia.

Gasol, now in week four of his 6-8 week recovery time, has been cleared to begin running on the treadmill.

Hopefully Gasol is able to return sooner than later, and make an immediate impact for the surging Lakers.

 

Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers try to solidify a playoff berth battling Orlando, Atlanta, Indiana and Sacramento.