Another week in Laker Land has passed us, and for the first time in a long time it feels like our boys in Purple and Gold are (finally) headed in the right direction. While the Laker schedule was light on games with only three contests this week, there were plenty of things to take from games against Denver, Minnesota and Atlanta.
Here is a look at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the Lakers past week in action.
Good: Kobe Bryant circa 2006 is Back.
Really, I could just post a link to this dunk and it would be enough of an explanation.
The Mamba has been on an absolute tear since the All-Star break ended, and the Lakers 5-1 record during that time is tied directly to what Bryant is doing. In the past five games alone Kobe is averaging a whopping 34.8 points per game, on 66-116 shooting, good for a cool 56.9% from the field. Did I mention that Bryant is doing this at 34-years old, in his 17th NBA season, 60 games into a campaign that has seen him average 38.2 minutes per contest? Oh and all while shooting what would be the highest field goal percentage of his career.
Bryant realizes this is a make or break stretch for the Lakers playoff chances, and he looks to be up for the challenge.
I’ve been in attack mode since the break. It’s go time. We’re getting a little bit closer and we’re starting to get in more of a striking distance where you start watching (the playoff race).
It’s absolutely mind-boggling that this guy is not only still going strong, but getting better as the season and his career progress. With the way Kobe’s been playing since the break, would you really want to bet against him getting the Lakers into the playoffs? Me neither. Kobe is aging like a fine wine (or Vino as he’s now apparently calling himself), just in time to save the Laker season.
Ugly: Interior Defense.
One negative that really stood out this week for the Lakers was just how bad their defense is in the paint, especially when Dwight Howard sits. In the loss to Denver, the Lakers gave up an astronomical 78 points in the paint. That’s more than some teams have scored in ENTIRE GAMES recently. The Nuggets were also able to gain a 33-3 edge on the fastbreak, further emphasizing the Lakers inability to not only get in position, but to challenge at the rim at all. This only gets worse when LA’s lone shot blocker has to take a seat. Granted, that Denver game was the second of a road back-to-back in an arena where any team that’s not named the Nuggets is expected to lose, so you can make a bit of an excuse for the Lakers, right?
Wrong. That would be fine and dandy if the Hawks didn’t score almost at will inside at the end of the game last night. While the Lakers were able to escape with a huge win (or avoid a huge collapse, your choice), you simply cannot ignore the fact that Atlanta scored three consecutives times at the basket in the final two minutes. Oh, and all those buckets were basically unguarded lay-ups and dunks. In fact, had Josh Smith been able to handle Devin Harris’ entry pass at the end of the game, we’d probably be lamenting another terrible loss rather than breathing a sigh of relief.
The Lakers should be able to slow down the scoring of other teams inside once Pau returns from his injury right? Wait what do you mean no? Let’s just move on.
Bad: Steve Nash Turnovers.
With the Lakers winning games and Kobe dominating on offense, it’s been difficult to find many things wrong with the Los Angeles offense. One thing that has definitely been off in the six games since the All-Star break has been Steve Nash’s handle. Nash has 20 turnovers (TWENTY!) in those six games, and that number is actually helped by the fact that Nash had none in the blow-out win over Minnesota. It’s hard to pick on anything Nash does because he has done such an incredible job of adjusting to the offense so that his teammates can thrive, basically becoming a spot-up shooter in this system.
But in Denver, those Nash turnovers became very costly. As is often the case with turnovers on the road, Denver was able to turn six Nash turnovers into points on the fast-break that really ignited their offense and helped them kill any Laker hope of winning int he Mile High City.
Good: Dwight Howard.
No, really. This isn’t sarcasm. I’m serious!
I know, it’s been a long time since we had a week free of tearing Dwight down, but the All-Star big man has actually been a force since the All-Star break. Sure he still forces some bad shots in the paint, and yeah his free throws are still terrible. But, hold on let me channel my inner Rock, FINALLY DWIGHT HAS COME BACK, sort of. Howard has really been playing with great energy lately.
Starting with a dominating 24-point, 12-rebound performance against the Celtics and on through the next five games, Howard has shown flashes of the All-Star Laker fans expected to see when he was brought in. In the past six games, Dwight is averaging 17 points and 14 boards per game, while also throwing in two swats a night. His scoring may not be as high as Dwight would like, but he is finally making an impact for the Lakers in a way that translates directly to wins. Boards, defense, and hard screen-and-rolls on offense will help this team win, and Howard seems to have finally figured that out.
Ugly: Opposing Role Players (still) Killing the Lakers.
This has really been a theme of the entire Laker season, but there were a few more instances this week of role guys really hurting the Lakers. In Denver, Wilson Chandler was a late insert into the starting line-up for the Nuggets, and all he did was drop 23 points on the Lakers. And just in case Laker fans forgot what he did to them the last two times these teams met, Corey Brewer chipped in 16 points and plenty of overdone celebrations. These two specifically played a huge role in sparking the Nuggets to a win over the Lakers.
Then, this ugly problem reared its head again against Atlanta. Devin Harris turned into an All-Star for a five-minute stretch spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter. By scoring 14 of his 16 points during that span, Harris nearly single-handedly brought the Hawks back from a 16-point deficit. Not to be outdone, Kyle Korver came in and also scored 16 on the Lakers, hitting a few big shots that nearly cost the home team the game.
This is another issue that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, but the Lakers are .500 so let’s stop talking about bad stuff!
Bad: Momentum Swings with the Bench.
Okay, so this is still something bad we have to discuss, but I’ll counter it with some good. The Laker bench was great against the T’Wolves this week. Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison and Steve Blake all scored in double-digits and helped the Lakers blow Minnesota out of the building.
It was the other two games this week that were cause for alarm, however. After a solid first quarter in Denver, the Laker bench allowed the Nuggets to blow the game open in the second quarter. Denver built a lead the Lakers were never able to recover from. Then against the Hawks, the bench twice blew a double-digit lead they had inherited from the starters. While only Meeks, Jamison and Blake entered the game off the bench, they were a collective -40 against Atlanta.
Simply put, this is not going to get it done most nights. Scoring isn’t a problem for the bench guys, but their inability to stop anyone on the opposing bench from scoring really puts a limitation on what the team can do.
Like most .500 teams, the Lakers have plenty of room for improvement. On the plus side, this is the first time in a roller-coaster of a season where Laker Nation can confidently say that its team is finally on the rise. This time, we just have to hope it’s for the rest of the season. Any more steep drops on this ride will have the Lakers heading straight into the off-season.
Oh and by the way, just in case you forgot what Kobe did yesterday, here you go. You’re welcome.