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The Lakers are right on schedule, but is it too late?

Jan 18, 2013, 2:10 PM EDT

Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash

Picture this: Steve Nash dribbles up court, surveying the floor. As he crosses half court, he maneuvers towards the three point line. Once there, Dwight Howard comes and sets a pick and rolls hard to the basket but doesn’t get the ball. Nash probes the defense, dribbling into the paint and underneath the hoop, spotting Kobe Bryant open on the wing. Kobe raises to shoot a jumper but instead rifles a pass to a wide open Howard under the hoop who catches the pass for a dunk.

Or picture this: Kobe is hounding the opposing point guard full court. Before the ball handler gets to the timeline, he’s been turned multiple times, his pattern up the floor an inefficient zig-zag. With the shot clock winding down, the ball goes to the wing. That player, feeling pressure from Metta World Peace, tries to drive and get a shot off before the help arrives. But Howard swoops in, alters the shot, and then secures the rebound.

Or this: Nash is pushing the ball up court, looking to improvise. Defenders are retreating and recovering to the paint while still trying to find their men in semi-transition. On one wing is Kobe. On the other is Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark. Howard is trailing the action but running well, looking for the ball should the action slow. Nash veers left towards Kobe, but instead fires a pass to Clark. As a defender chases the ball, Clark instantly passes to Jamison in the corner who shoots, and sinks, an uncontested three pointer.

Actually, you don’t have to just picture them — these are sequences from the last three Lakers’ games. It’s the middle of January and they’re finally starting to get it. This is good news, right?

Before the season started, this was the timeline many thought the Lakers would be operating on. With a team of players turned over by half — including some big name acquisitions — they’d need time to find their collective stride. With Howard still recovering from his back surgery, the expectations were that the team would start somewhat slowly. Give them time to heal, to jell, to build up that familiarity that all teams need to reach their peak. Once that happened, they’d start to string together good performances and become a terror that teams would want to avoid.

The Lakers are getting closer to being that team. The defense is improving. The offense, though efficient for the entire season, is staring to show more fluidity. Players are communicating better and seem to be on the same page. And while there are still hurdles to clear — What to do with Pau Gasol? How to mix their lineups effectively? Do they sure up their bench?  — the list of positives with this team is finally starting to outweigh the negatives. They are making progress. Lots of it.

The only problem is the hole they’ve dug themselves in the process of getting to this point. The moral victories are piling up, but the Lakers need real victories to sustain them. They currently sit 5 games below .500 with 17 wins and 22 losses. They’re the 11th seed in the West with only a half a season left to play. So as much as D’Antoni would love to hit the reset button on this season, the Lakers’ season did not, in fact, start this past Sunday.

The time to turn their season around was weeks ago, but is only starting to happen now. Do the Lakers have enough time left?

Over the past 4 seasons, the 8th seed in the Western Conference has averaged 48 wins. For the Lakers to get to that mark, they would need to close with the season with a 31-12 push. Possible? Yes. Plausible? The friendliest response would say maybe. A neutral observer would say it’s pretty unlikely.

There is a formula for the Lakers to reach their goal of making the post-season. If they can get above the .500 mark by the all-star break they’d put themselves in position to make one last push to sneak in as the 8th seed. In Phil Jackson’s last year with the team, the Lakers came out of the all-star break winning 19 of 20 games before injuries saw them sputter into the playoffs. Is this team capable of making that type of push from the middle of February into March?

The way the team is playing now does make it seem anything is possible. If observed in a vacuum, their improvement on offense and recommitment to defense is the foundation of a team that can rattle off a bunch of wins in a short amount of time. Of course, this season isn’t taking place in a vacuum.

Funny how things work. The Lakers are starting to play well, right on the schedule we thought they would. But because of how bad they were to start the year, it may still be too late.

  1. illegalblues - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    lakers suck, talk bout something else for once.

    • loungefly74 - Jan 18, 2013 at 4:04 PM

      nope. we like them. keep’em coming.

      you? well…ya know.

      • illegalblues - Jan 18, 2013 at 4:42 PM

        oh really, man i had no idea. thanks for the heads up!

    • dko83 - Jan 18, 2013 at 7:20 PM

      I’m guilty of this too, but if you want to see less Lakers articles, stop clicking on them. Every Laker article (since they get so many hits) are like dollar signs to these bloggers.

      I’m going to try and have some self control and stop reading every stupid Lakers post that comes up (not that this one is stupid, just that there are so many Lakers articles on PBT.. most are to keep the $ rolling in).

      They’re done. Best case scenario 8 seed where they get ran off the court by OKC/Clips. It may bring in less money PBT, but some Clips/Warriors articles (the real California teams) would be nice as well..

  2. jtchernak - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:31 PM

    Picture this: an article not about the lakers

  3. usavebob - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:32 PM

    Have you been watching the same games everyone else has been watching?

    Teams win with defense and unselfish play; neither of which exist, here. I can only imagine how tough it is to play hoping for an offensive rebound off of a Kobe miss or a howard foul shot miss.

    • paleihe - Jan 18, 2013 at 3:29 PM

      Kobe passed the ball quite a few times to Dwight last night. Some he shouldn’t have even tried to get in to him, but he did anyway.

      But, Kobe still shot way too much.

  4. caeser12 - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:32 PM

    Manti Te’o stories are starting to sound more believable than all of these Laker worshiping threads.

  5. slumdog66 - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:43 PM

    Hahahahahahaha! That is all.

  6. willthedolphinseverwin - Jan 18, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    can anyone even name the 11 seed in the east off the top of their head? WHO CARES!

  7. mungman69 - Jan 18, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    If they were right on schedule it wouldn’t be to late. How lame.

  8. buffalo65 - Jan 18, 2013 at 5:16 PM

    Where is that laker lover guy who wouldn’t shut up about this dud of a team in the pre season? Cat got your tongue??? Lol

    • badintent - Jan 19, 2013 at 9:19 PM

      he’s got 3/4 handles and screams at all real and imaginary Cs fans .pathetic

  9. paulhargis53 - Jan 18, 2013 at 5:17 PM

    No, no. Keep these articles coming.

    Part of the fanbase is tearing their hair out wondering how it all went wrong.
    The other part is delusional enough to think the team is going anywhere.

    I can’t figure out which I find more entertaining.

    Id bet the house on the lakers nit making the playoffs.

  10. magicbucs - Jan 18, 2013 at 5:20 PM

    This article = zzzzzzz

    Lakers still suck. A few nice team plays per game isn’t going to get them anywhere.

  11. ljl2 - Jan 18, 2013 at 5:48 PM

    If they weren’t expecting to be gelling until now, and are on schedule, why did they fire their coach so early? Was that on their schedule?

  12. BigBeachBall - Jan 18, 2013 at 7:12 PM

    howard watches cartoons to get into game-ready-mode
    shaq used to eat small children to get ready….

  13. fearthehoody - Jan 18, 2013 at 7:53 PM

    Cliff Paul does not approve

  14. abchome - Jan 19, 2013 at 1:08 AM

    Sekou Smith: No. Rock bottom is the Lakers sitting outside of the top eight in the Western Conference standings in mid-April. Then and only then will it sink in around Lakerland that this team is scraping the bottom. Even now, with all of the mounting evidence against their chances of simply making the playoffs, there are those who continue to believe that the Lakers will somehow miraculously recover from the mess that has been the first two and a half months of their season. Their fairy tale ends with the No. 8 seed Lakers defying the odds and winning a title and shutting all of their haters up with a confetti-filled scene on the last night of the season in Miami or New York. Must be fun to live in that land of make believe.

    • croydsblogs - Jan 19, 2013 at 3:21 AM

      Good assessment. However, it hasn’t been 2-1/2 months they have been in a mess, more like 1-1/2 years. Last year was a great mess brought on by Jimmy Buss. I didn’t think he could do worse this year but he did. While the players have to play to win, the fact is the Laker organization is so chaotic, so disorganized with no true vision (“we want to win this year! HA HA, Jimmy Buss knows nothing about winning let alone how to run a sports franchise.) along with the fact they have almost no draft picks available for the next five years (a result of Jimmy’s goal to “win now.”) that the Lakers will remain a mediocre team at best for years to come regardless of the players present. The destructiveness from Jimmy seeps down and infects the players whether they like it or not. As you said, only in fairy tales will the Lakers ever be a good team, let alone winning a title. Their fairy tale is unfortunately ruled by the Wicked Wizard of the East!

      • borderline1988 - Jan 19, 2013 at 11:22 PM

        I don’t think it’s that simple.

        Everyone was marvelling at the Laker’s offseason this last summer, picking up Howard and Nash. I still think it was the right thing to do this late into Kobe’s career. The window is closing. Middle to late first round draft picks aren’t going to do anything, esepcially in the next few years.

        It’s unfortunate that the Lakers can’t get their starters healthy. This is certainly a playoff team when healthy.
        The Lakers made a good gamble, and so far it isn’t panning out. But it was a good try.

  15. delusionalcardsfan - Jan 19, 2013 at 1:33 AM

    Caca boys. Go HEEEEET!!

  16. omniusprime - Jan 19, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    Who is this Darius Soriano moron? What a crock of BS this clown writes, but then he’s an ignorant sports pundit who can’t get a real job doing real work and this article shows us why.

    A few flashes of brilliance do not constitute proof that the Lakers are right on schedule for making the playoffs and doing well. It takes more than a few brief flashes Darius to make a promising season pan out.

    Two reasons why the Lakers either won’t make the playoffs or will get wasted in the first round – Dumbtoni and Nash. Dumbtoni is too stupid to create a defensive plan, he never has yet in his pathetic loser career and he won’t with the Lakers. Ancient Nash is too old and lazy to play defense, heck he never bothered to play defense in his whole career. Dumbtoni wants to play small ball with a big ball team, totally stupid.

    No the Lakers are right on schedule to not make the playoffs and I’m peeved that the little idiot buss boy has screwed up the great team that Daddy Jerry Buss built.

    Fire Dumbtoni!!! Trade Away Ancient Nash!!! We Want Phil and Jeanie!!! Fire the little idiot buss boy!!!

  17. txnative61 - Jan 20, 2013 at 1:16 AM

    The most logical goal at this point would be to play for a good shot at a high lottery pick. Some youth couldn’t hurt, but desperately playing for one series in the playoffs could bring more injury’s to the old guy’s.

  18. mazblast - Jan 20, 2013 at 12:32 PM

    I see one of two scenarios playing out–

    1. (Cue the sweeping Hollywood music) The Lakers struggle until the ASB, then make a MIRACULOUS run to make the playoffs, make MIRACULOUS comebacks several times over to make the finals, where they meet David Stern’s other favorite team, the Heat. It doesn’t matter who wins at that point, Stern exits having seen his dream matchup.

    2. The Lakers continue to struggle, fail to make the playoffs, then MIRACULOUSLY defy the odds to get the #1 pick in the lottery a la Patrick Ewing to the Knicks or the sick kid getting #1 for the Cavs a few years ago.

    If either of those actually happen, I’ll believe in the honesty of the NBA and its ringmaster, Little Caesar, as much as I do in Manti Te-o’s stories.

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