Two words: Damian Lillard. He is the X-factor on this squad. His rookie year out of Weber State he has absolutely shattered expectations. He is the highest picked player to ever come out of Weber State and has easily assimilated to be the point guard the Blazers need. Given his age he is only going to develop more. Franchise player anyone? But wait- then there’s All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. This team is showing flashes of actual goodness. They are hovering middle of the pack with a record of exactly .500, which explains their under-the-radar status. They handled the LA Clippers sans Chris Paul in the Rose Garden but weren’t able to get the job done at Staples Center on Sunday.
Then, last night, a buzzer beater from LaMarcus Aldridge finished off the Dallas Mavericks. Even more shockingly they won against the Miami Heat to put them up to their best record of the season at 20-15 at the time. That must have triggered some false confidence as they went on a 6-game skid losing to Cleveland, Milwaukee and Washington DC at home. They are 7-13 on the road, which doesn’t bode well considering they are on the road for almost the entire month of February. Hopefully the skid can continue to knock them out of contention to take the Lakers’ eighth seed.
I can only hope that the Lakers route of the Jazz then subsequent victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder means some parallel universe is kicking in and the Lakers and Jazz are about to trade places. Jazz are 24-20 on the season. They are a great example of a team that distributes well. They rank seventh in the league in assists with point guard Mo Williams. They have a top five center in Al Jefferson averaging 17 points a game, which makes them the top team for efficiency at the center position. They have the fourth best bench in the league averaging 37 pts per game. However, they are 8-17 on the road. They have won four of their last five, losing only to the Lakers at Staples.
They are just six of 15 against playoff teams. I’m basically just hoping their luck runs out and they take a severe fall from grace. A girl can dream right? The only true road tests the Jazz have to deal with the rest of the season are the San Antonio Spurs, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the LA Clippers. Yes, the three best teams in the league but even if they go 0-3 in those contests it doesn’t seem that will be enough to total their playoff hopes. They have a couple Eastern Conference challenges in the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets. But honestly, their schedule doesn’t look all that bad. Realistically I see them nestled in the lower seeds of the playoffs and not going anywhere.
Let me just point out we aren’t even having this discussion about the Lakers if they are in the Eastern Conference. The lopsidedness between the two conferences is just stupid. The Philadelphia 76ers are on the cusp with a 18-25 record a.k.a. worse than the Lakers’ 19-25. It seems Lakers have finally figured it out though and gained some sort of identity which includes Kobe distributing more and posting up more and scoring… less? Pau Gasol made a huge impact on Sunday coming off the bench against the Thunder. The Lakers are the third best rebounding team in the league, due largely in part to Dwight Howard averaging 12.1 rebounds a game, giving them a ton of second chance opportunities.
Steve Nash is nearly up to his career average 8.6 assists per game with 8.3 this season, though his point totals are suffering a bit. With Kobe’s help in the post and the Lakers working from the inside out it seems they are finally on their way to putting together something that resembles a season. Plus that Dwight Howard/Pau Gasol hug just warmed my heart after Sunday’s game against OKC. Kobe was actually smiling in the post-game presser and you could see visible signs of relief in D’Antoni’s infamous facial expressions.
Kobe is still best shooting guard in the league. Should the Lakers make the playoffs a severe MVP case could ensue for Kobe and all will be right with the world. Until then enjoy the upside of this roller coaster year.