I‘m not really sure why it is, but I’ve always liked lists. Lists just seem to keep you organized and on the right path. When you’ve got a plan that needs to be executed, lists help you remain self-critical, on target and they pretty much help you achieve what your goal was in the first place. So, I’ve picked up some things I figured I learned from last night’s game, along with a couple other things some of the Lakers players have figured out (at least from what they shared in their postgame talks) and created a list of 5 things I noticed were important last night and might be even more important in the future.
1. The Detroit Pistons – Well, primarily I’ve learned that the fact that the Lakers played the Pistons was a good thing. Detroit came into the Staples Center with a 0-2 losing record (curiously enough, one loss away from the Lakers’ 0-3 record) and they are not likely to do much this season unless they make some serious structural moves. As a friend of mine would say: “It’s five against five and they all get paid”, which is true. But come on, it’s the Detroit Pistons, a team that I’d say is easier to chew for a Lakers team that is still in its first days of existence. L.A. certainly needed something less threatening in order to get it going.
2. Not quite in shape yet – You might say they had the whole off-season to get in shape, to get their bodies right and to be ready to go, but the truth is that there’s no workout that seriously prepares you for an NBA season apart from that good old playing time. The contact, the elbow throwing, the boxing-out, all these elements of the game are different than a gym workout. Plus, the regular season has a totally different pace than the pre-season games or the scrimmages you might do in practice. It’s intense, it’s competitive and the Lakers aren’t quite there yet. I believe in time things will get better in this chapter.
3. “Rome wasn’t built in a day” – This ancient saying helps us understand that when you want to build something great, you have to build some foundation first. That obviously has a lot to do with accumulating playing time together, understanding each other’s moves and habits on the court and especially learning a new system. Remember how long it took newcomers to adjust to the triangle-offense back in the day? Pau Gasol, who I personally consider as a high basketball IQ type of player and a fast learner, only got it right after a month or so. Now, we can’t expect the majority of the players of a team to get it right, right off the bat. It’s a whole new team guys! If this was Vic ‘the Brick’ Jacobs’ article, I’m sure he would give you some sort of awesome haiku about how bamboos grow throughout adversity and how only then are they able to bend but not break. Well, that’s kind of what I meant here, you get the picture.
4. Inside Out – The key to getting a team to play consistent basketball is to get all of the players involved, interested and playing together. One of the ways to do it, and probably the most efficient one if you have good assets close to the basket, is to play the inside out game. Overdose the paint, give your big men the ball and when the defense starts calling the double teams, kick it out and give your playmakers the advantage of a less crowded perimeter. I feel this is a lesson the Lakers are learning, as Dwight mentioned in his post-game talk to the media:
“…Tonight we were patient, we moved the ball and we got easy shots. We started inside out, I think that’s always the key with this team, is to get Pau and myself going early…”
Couldn’t agree more! With such a skilled, dynamic and dominant inside game, the path to consistently win walks hand in hand with putting the ball in the paint, moving it and finding the way to the easy, high percentage shot.
5. Focus and Execution – It is as easy as that. When you play focused and you know exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are, good things will happen. As they get to know each other better and as they start to get more comfortable on the court around one another, the turnovers will continue to gradually decrease. In the last 3 games the Lakers’ turnovers have gone down a handful from game to game. Against the Blazers the PNG made 25 TO’s, against the Clippers committed 20 TO’s, while against the Pistons they turned the ball over 15 times (nba.com sources). Even though these are still high numbers, that’s a good indication things are improving.
To close it off, I’d like to mention Mike Brown’s decision to put Kobe and Dwight against the Pistons’ second line late in the fourth quarter. I’m not sure it was just to prevent Detroit from making a run. I think he wanted to have them play together a few more minutes without pressure so that they would get more of the feel of how to cohabit on the court. In my opinion, Brown understood that it’s easier for them to play together when the team is winning and there’s less pressure to deal with.
Now, it’s important that the Lakers keep winning because W’s are the best motivators and chemistry creators.