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The 2013 NBA All-Star break certainly treated the Lakers well this year.
Coming out of last week’s All-Star break, the Lakers have won their last 3 games in a row, and improved their overall record to 28-29 this week.
With Monday’s devastating passing of long-time Lakers’ owner Dr. Jerry Buss, the Lakers rallied around the spirit of their joyous owner.
After a touching pre-game ceremony in the first game since the late owner’s death, the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics handedly, 113-99.
The Lakers followed up that emotional win with a win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday. Kobe Bryant’s 40 points led the Lakers to victory over another team with playoff aspirations.
With two wins under their belts, the Lakers departed Los Angeles for Dallas on Sunday—defeating the 10th-place Mavericks, 103-99.
With 25 games remaining now, the Lakers sit just 2 ½ games back of the 8th seed in the Western Conference.
Also, after the February 21st NBA Trade Deadline this past week, the Lakers’ entire roster remained intact.
Take a look back now at the changes in the Lakers’ stock values and the impact the players should have going forward:
Kobe Bryant : At 34 years of age, the man, the legend, Kobe Bryant, continues to play at an extremely high level.
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Bryant did not have a particularly great game against the Celtics, but did contribute 16 points and 7 assists in the win. Bryant also made a number of key defensive stops and even dove on the ground for a loose ball late in that game.
It looked like Bryant, despite an off shooting night, really took it upon himself to give 110% effort on such an emotional night for the Lakers.
Bryant responded against Portland and seemingly reverted back to the “scoring-Kobe” of old.
Bryant poured in 40 points on 15-23 shooting, including 9-9 from the free-throw line, and 7 rebounds. Bryant’s perfect free-throw shooting was key in sealing the win late for the Lakers.
It’s pretty difficult to upstage a 40-point game, right? Well, Bryant found a way to do that against Dallas.
Bryant scored 38 points on 13-21 shooting, and contributed 12 rebounds and 7 assists. Bryant also made 5-5 field goals in the fourth quarter to ensure a Lakers’ victory.
Bryant certainly set the tone offensively early and often, and sealed the victory late with tough shots on the perimeter.
Bryant also drained 4-5 three-pointers in that game, effectively ending his recent “drought” from behind the arc.
With these recent performances, it seems that the 34-year-old has finally figured out his toughest challenge this season.
Bryant struggled finding a balance earlier this season between scoring too much and facilitating too often. With averages of 31.3 ppg and 6.0 apg this past week, Bryant seems to have found that elusive balance.
If Bryant continues playing at this high of a level going forward, Bryant and the Lakers will backup his playoff ‘guarantee’.
Dwight Howard : Could the passing of the great Dr. Buss have had a direct impact on Dwight Howard as well?
It looks like it may have, coupled with the rest and rehabilitation Howard received during the All-Star break.
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Howard was the main reason the Lakers got off to such a quick start against the Boston Celtics. Howard established himself inside early and often, and looked much more “springy” to start.
Howard finished the game with a team-high 24 points along with 12 rebounds, 7 of which were offensive.
Against Portland, Howard contributed another solid performance with 19 points, 16 rebounds and 2 blocks.
The treatment Howard received during the All-Star break really paid dividends this week, as Howard had the best back-to-back stretch of his short Lakers career.
In the game against Dallas, however, Howard got into early foul trouble. With Pau Gasol still out at least another 4 weeks, the Lakers desperately need Howard to stay out of foul trouble going forward, especially since he’s the only real center in the rotation.
Howard finished with just 9 points but did contribute 13 rebounds, and played solid defense patrolling the paint.
Howard’s ability to contest and alter shots is not something that shows up the stat sheet, but it’s something that has a huge impact on the outcome of games.
As demonstrated by their current three-game winning streak, the Lakers have been effective on both ends of the floor with this more “active” Dwight Howard.
Antawn Jamison : Two straight weeks of solid performances from Antawn Jamison have been a huge factor in the Lakers’ recent turnaround.
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Jamison seems to have finally settled into his role in Los Angeles.
For the month of February, Jamison is averaging 12.7 ppg on 47.5% shooting and 5.3 rpg. Jamison, the Lakers’ sixth-man, has become a considerable threat off the bench.
What once was a glaring weakness for the Lakers, the bench has now become somewhat of a strength. Jamison’s recent play has had a lot to do with this, along with fellow reserves Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake.
Over the last three games, Jamison has averaged 14.7 ppg and 5.3 rpg. This increased production has helped pick up the slack with Gasol injured.
After the Lakers’ win in Dallas, coach Mike D’Antoni had this to say of the bench:
“I think our bench is playing great for us. [Meeks, Jamison and Blake are] crucial to what we’ve been doing as of late.”
If Jamison can continue scoring at this rate, the Lakers’ bench unit will become a potent aspect of this team.
Earl Clark : After a tough week last week for Earl Clark, he turned it around this week.
Clark averaged 10.3 ppg and 9.0 rpg in the last three games. Clark’s 14 points and 16 rebounds were especially instrumental in the Lakers’ win over the Celtics.
Clark, who dislocated his left pinky in the win over Portland, has continued to play with solid energy starting alongside Dwight Howard.
It was a welcomed sight to see Clark bounce back from the difficult stretch he had before the All-Star break. That type of resiliency is promising, especially from a young player like Earl Clark.
With Gasol still out with his plantar fascia tear, Clark’s contributions will be paramount in the Lakers’ continued success.
Steve Nash : Despite a tough 2-11 shooting performance against Portland, Steve Nash finished the week strong.
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Nash scored a huge 20 points against Dallas, including 4-5 from three-point range.
Nash’s clutch three-pointer late in the fourth quarter helped catapult the Lakers to victory.
Nash also had a solid game offensively against Boston, in which he scored 14 points on 6-7 shooting and dished out 7 assists.
One particularly surprising part about Nash’s game this season has been his defense. Sure, Nash is not a lock-down defender by any means, but his defensive toughness this season has been great.
Nash has always had the reputation of being a poor defender, but his solid defense on the perimeter of late should have people revisiting that perception.
Finally, Nash did ‘tweak’ his back in the Lakers’ win over the Trail Blazers. Nash is confident that this injury is only temporary, but did say that it is an acute injury, different from his usual back issues.
With Nash playing 30+ minutes per game, that’s certainly something to keep an eye on going forward.
Jodie Meeks : Although Jodie Meeks did not shoot the ball particularly well this week (6-14 from the field and 3-9 from behind the arc), he did hit some timely shots.
Meeks averaged 8.7 ppg this week off the bench and contributed defensively with constant hustle.
Despite Meeks’ scoring contributions, the Lakers could definitely benefit from Meeks shooting more efficiently.
Steve Blake : Since returning to the Lakers’ lineup, Blake has averaged 4.9 ppg and 3.2 apg off the bench.
Although those aren’t the most spectacular stats, Blake’s ability to control the game has been beneficial for everyone on the floor.
Blake’s command of the offense has been a significant upgrade from the inconsistent play of Chris Duhon. Blake’s defensive tenacity has also helped slow quicker opposing point guards.
The Lakers’ bench unit has flourished since his return, but Blake only shot 25% from behind the arc this past week.
Like Meeks, Blake’s three-point shooting efficiency could also use a boost going forward.
Metta World Peace : Had Metta World Peace not played excellent defense on Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki this past week, he would have received a red down arrow.
World Peace struggled mightily from the floor this week, shooting a measly 9-29, or 31%, from the field. World Peace also shot 30.8% from three-point range.
Image Credit: Wally Skalij | LA Times
Opposing defenses continue to leave World Peace wide open on the perimeter, and he has to knock down those shots in the future.
With defenses keying in on Bryant, Nash and Howard, World Peace has become the open player.
If World Peace keeps struggling like this, opposing teams will continue scheming their defenses towards allowing World Peace to shoot as much as he’d like.
Despite his offensive struggles, World Peace did play excellent defense in all three games this week.
In the win over Boston, World Peace held Paul Pierce to just 3 points in the second half, despite scoring 23 points in the first half.
Against Portland, World Peace filled up the stat sheet with 6 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. He also had a key defensive stop against the Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge late in the fourth quarter.
In Dallas, World Peace played superb fourth quarter defense against a hot-shooting Dirk Nowitzki. Despite Nowitzki scoring 30 points in the game, World Peace locked him down late in the game to seal the victory for the Lakers.
For the Lakers to make the playoffs, however, they will need World Peace to get back on track offensively.
Chris Duhon : Reserve point guard Chris Duhon has failed to crack D’Antoni’s “8-man rotation”.
Duhon only played 3 minutes against the Celtics this week, in ‘garbage-time’, but did make a long distance three-pointer in that game.
Robert Sacre : Reserve center Robert Sacre continues to sit on the bench, even when Dwight Howard gets into foul trouble.
Even with Pau Gasol still out for an extended period, it looks like Sacre will remain on the bench.
Sacre, however, did have a good time on the bench watching Kobe’s scoring spree against Dallas:
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Darius Morris : Point guard Darius Morris did not play this week.
Devin Ebanks : Small forward Devin Ebanks also did not play this week.
Pau Gasol : Prior to the Dallas game on Sunday, the OC Register’s Kevin Ding gave an update on Pau Gasol’s recovery from his partially torn plantar fascia:
Jordan Hill : Kevin Ding also provided an update on injured forward/center Jordan Hill, who is recovering from hip surgery.
Although a long shot, Ding did suggest Hill might be able to contribute for the Lakers if they reach the NBA Finals in June:
Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers continue chasing a playoff berth battling Denver, Minnesota and Atlanta.