Jan 18, 2013, 2:10 PM EST
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.
Dec 11, 2013, 12:08 PM EST
Boston fans felt jilted by Doc Rivers — they thought he would stay with them through the pain of rebuilding, instead he took off for the hot young thing in Los Angeles. Outside Boston few blamed him, in Boston fans felt dumped. Rivers kept saying it was mutual, Celtics fans were having none of it.…
Dec 11, 2013, 11:44 AM EST
.@Paul_George24 and @jtimberlake playing H-O-R-S-E now. Notice coach Vogel and Burke watching in the corner. http://t.co/fThtkA6AXb— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) December 11, 2013 If you watched the Pacers come-from-behind win over the Heat Tuesday night you probably saw the shots of Justin Timberlake in the crowd. Somehow he was able to swing court side seats, hope…
Dec 11, 2013, 10:49 AM EST
Kyrie Irving just hasn’t been himself this season — his shot has been off and with that the entire Cavaliers offense has been easier to defend. But nothing can help a guy out of a slump like facing the Knicks “defense.” Irving was able to get the rim but the key is he finished —…
Dec 11, 2013, 10:04 AM EST
Paul Pierce returned to the Nets lineup on Tuesday after missing the last four games with a broken bone in his hand. But he wasn’t in his usual spot in the team’s starting lineup. Facing his former Boston Celtics, Pierce came off the bench for just the fourth time in his storied career. And his head…
Dec 11, 2013, 9:31 AM EST
Indiana got the win over Miami on Tuesday, in a game the Pacers talked up a lot more beforehand than the defending champs cared to in advance of an early-December contest. LeBron James brought the intensity early by shutting down Paul George for the game’s first 12 minutes, and scored his first basket of the…
Dec 11, 2013, 8:44 AM EST
Kobe Bryant is back on the court for the Lakers — and with a huge contract that will keep him the highest paid player in the NBA for two more seasons after this one. In the latest edition of the PBT podcast myself and Eyton Shander of NBC Sports Radio welcome in Kevin Ding of…
Dec 11, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
After watching two of the league’s best starting lineups duke it out in Indiana, let’s check in on the best and worst lineups around the league so far this season. Best Net Efficiency Rating (minimum 150 minutes) Houston: Patrick Beverley-James Harden-Chandler Parsons-Terrence Jones-Dwight Howard Net efficiency is the difference between a team’s offensive rating and…
Dec 11, 2013, 2:51 AM EST
Here is our nightly look at some of the noteworthy things around the NBA, the things you missed while freaking out that there are now cockroaches which can survive a freezing winter just fine… Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers. He looked better. Kobe was more fluid and in part because (as he noted after the…
Dec 11, 2013, 12:24 AM EST
Kobe Bryant can dunk again. It’s not going to be remembered as one of his most thunderous throw downs, but he got around P.J. Tucker with the spin, got to the rim, took off with both feet and dunked. It’s about steps with Kobe on his return. His turnovers were down, he got a dunk…
Dec 10, 2013, 11:59 PM EST
Amir Johnson has had a couple strong games — 32 points against the Lakers Sunday, then another 19 points and 9 boards against the Spurs Tuesday. Plus this awesome block of Kawhi Leonard at the rim. Leonard is athletic, has a freakish wingspan and goes up strong. Johnson was stronger. That is what rim protection…
Dec 10, 2013, 10:09 PM EST
The Pacers wanted their Dec. 10 game vs. the Heat a whole heck of a lot more than Miami did, after falling to the eventual back-to-back champs in the Conference Finals a season ago and being very open with their goals heading into this year’s campaign. Indiana hasn’t been shy about declaring its desire to…
Dec 10, 2013, 7:40 PM EST
Jeremy Lin was playing his best basketball — at least since a couple weeks in New York a couple years ago — to start the season, having shown off a new-and-improved jumper (39 percent from three). He was a great spark plug sixth man. But he tweaked his knee back on Nov. 27 and has…
Dec 10, 2013, 7:01 PM EST
The Charlotte basketball organization will revert from the Bobcats to the Hornets next season, in a move that has hopes of re-engaging the local fan base with what has been a historically terrible basketball franchise. Winning solves any team’s problems in terms of ticket or merchandise sales, of course, but in absence of that, an…
Dec 10, 2013, 5:52 PM EST
NBA coaches comprise a fraternity. Many coaches like each other after years of working in the same field. Even the ones who dislike each other share an understanding of the responsibilities and pressures of this incredibly demanding job. That’s why it’s incredibly rare for a coach to publically criticize one of his peers, even if…
Dec 10, 2013, 5:40 PM EST
Danny Granger was a key reason the Pacers were supposed to be better this season — whether starting or coming off the bench, this is a former All-Star who can score the rock and add another offensive weapon to a team with the best defense in the league. However, a calf injury has sidelined him…
Dec 10, 2013, 4:44 PM EST
The Denver Nuggets have been outscored in every first quarter they’ve played this month. They’ve scored a little and fallen behind (22-18 to the Wizards on Monday night), scored a lot and still fallen behind (29-27 to the Nets on Dec. 3) and have just been plain routed (39-15 by the Celtics on Friday). Yet,…
Dec 10, 2013, 4:00 PM EST
Tuesday night we are getting an Eastern Conference Finals preview — Indiana vs. Miami. Please let it be an Eastern Conference Finals preview, because if one of these teams stumbles due to injury or whatever else the other one can start planning what to wear to NBA Finals press conferences. It’s a two-team East this…
Dec 10, 2013, 3:23 PM EST
The Clipper locker room is not like others — Chris Paul‘s son has the run of the place and some other team members regularly bring their children in. It’s different, but it works for the Clips, who have pretty good team chemistry. Now ‘Lil Chris is showing up in the latest Foot Locker ad. And…
Dec 10, 2013, 2:32 PM EST
Randy Wittman, coaching a Wizards team that has a singular focus of reaching the 2014 playoffs, watched his squad start 2-7 – placing him firmly on the hot seat. Washington then won seven of its next nine, and even with losses in its last two games, that should be enough for Wittman to keep his…
Dec 10, 2013, 1:58 PM EST
How much do the Chicago Bulls miss Derrick Rose at the point? It looks like they are going to pick up D.J. Augustin, who was waived Monday by the Toronto Raptors. So reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. The Bulls lost superstar point guard Derrick Rose for the season, and have been searching for further…
- The Extra Pass: The league’s leading lineups; plus Tuesday’s recaps 7
- Tuesday night NBA Grades: Kobe plays pretty well, Suns’ backcourt plays better 5
- Pacers win first Conference Finals rematch vs. Heat 32
- Days before he faced LeBron, Paul George said Durant is NBA’s toughest cover 26
- A day later, Kobe didn’t think he played quite so bad 12