With a three-game home stand ahead of them for the coming week, the Los Angeles Lakers are in a prime position to continue digging themselves out of the hole they dug during the oft-discussed 1-4 start. Fresh off a game in which they were finally able to come away victorious on the road, the thrashing they laid upon the Dallas Mavericks finally offered Lakers Nation a glimpse of what everyone hoped the “D’Antoni System” (Purple & Gold Edition) would resemble.
Even in the absence of Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks have some quality wins on the season. For example, prior to Saturday’s home loss to the Lakers, the Mavs had just impressed many around the NBA by beating the blazing-hot New York Knicks. Not to place too much significance on the results of one game, but it was more a manner of what should be acknowledged as steady progress on the part of the Lakers. While they were far from perfect (19 turnovers), there wasn’t much else on the negative side of things.
Even though it was their fourth game in five nights, the Lakers were the aggressors throughout the evening. They often fought each other for loose balls, battled for rebounds and position, communicated and helped each other out on defense, and won a majority of the 50-50 balls. Admittedly, I’d still like to see Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard combine for more than 16 rebounds, but their overall effort and energy was much better and more consistent than any game prior. Howard was credited with blocking two shots, but easily may have altered or severely influenced at least another half dozen. Gasol, along with the rest of the team, contributed the type of swarming effort that resulted in 37 percent FG shooting for Dallas. As someone that appreciates the dirty work, I was most impressed by the 50 points the Lakers scored from inside the paint.
Again, although it was only one game, the progress that is being made as the team grows more comfortable and familiar (while awaiting the return of Steve Nash) is a reason to be more than just optimistic about the upcoming home stand. The Pacers, Nuggets, and Magic will each provide a challenge, but are all teams this new core should be able to assert themselves against.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Howard is rounding into basketball shape. His burst isn’t there, but it is coming. It should be noted that not only is Howard becoming healthy enough to alter a majority of the shots that come his way, but the five steals he was credited with vs. Dallas denote an increased agility and reaction-time Lakers fans are sure to be pleased by in the upcoming months (years).
In case you hadn’t noticed, Metta World Peace is averaging 16 points and five boards while shooting 54 percent FG and over 48 percent from behind the arc over the last five games. I anticipated a bounce-back year for MWP, but even I couldn’t have predicted such start. More important than his shooting percentage, MWP looks fluid, confident, and completely rejuvenated following the worst statistical season of his career in 2011-12.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks, and Darius Morris have each found their stride and are becoming much more confident and productive now that they have established and clearly defined roles. Interesting how coaching philosophies and systems can dictate the impact of certain players. Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks’ minutes seemingly left town with Mike Brown.
By the way, Kobe Bryant (for what it’s worth) is still shooting over 50 percent from the field on the year. Bryant is also shooting nearly 42 percent from the 3-point line. Fact is, even without the services of a 2-time MVP (Nash) and his back-up (Blake), the Lakers have found a way to get things together all with the equivalent of (as @TheRealJamieson refers) a “red-shirt freshman” in Morris as the lead guard position. Having missed the last seven games due to an abdominal strain, reserve guard Steve Blake is reportedly set to return to action on Tuesday vs. the Pacers (barring setbacks). Nash, however, still has no timetable to return. As much as I would prefer to have a healthy Nash, these could prove to be critical minutes of much-needed experience for Morris for the future. In fact, if Morris can continue playing efficiently and at a proper pace, he may eventually compete with Blake for serious minutes at the back-up position even once Nash is fully healthy.
There will undoubtedly be another natural adjustment period once Nash returns, but unlike the start of the season, I fully expect his group to be able to adjust while on the move. After all, that’s what D’Antoni’s free-wheeling system is all about. It took the Miami Heat about 20 games to work out the kinks (2010), and I predicted about the same thing for this team. Even though I couldn’t possibly have anticipated the injury to Nash, I did expect there to be some ups and downs throughout the early going. With the momentum and groove some of the key components are currently experiencing, I believe this team is finally ready to turn the corner and begin their quest toward the franchise’s 17th championship banner.
Video: The latest on Steve Nash and Steve Blake, plus what Kobe and D’Antoni had to say at practice today
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