Jan 18, 2013, 2:10 PM EDT
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.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Former Tennessee guard, drafted No. 58, will help Philadelphia tank from afar
Aug 30, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Other NBA teams also watching Slovenia closely in World Cup to assess Zoran
Aug 30, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Finland isn’t as good as the teams the USA was destroying in tune ups.
Aug 30, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
He can decide this summer, or he can wait and join a team mid-season. There is no rush.
Aug 30, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
“We talk and he’s ready. He’s 20-year-old Kobe. It’s going to be a crazy environment.” — James Harden on Kobe Bryant
Aug 30, 2014, 12:11 AM EDT
Another Pacer player injured in international play.
Aug 29, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
Tournament features a record 75 players who have played in the NBA at some point, and we have the complete list.
Chris Paul discusses his signature shoe, hoops with media at launch of his Jordan Brand CP3 VIII (VIDEO)
Aug 29, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
Chris Paul is way more into sneakers than you are, and articulated it well at the launch of his latest signature shoe in New York earlier this week.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Ayon has played for four teams in three NBA seasons, and currently only has offers to play overseas next year.
Aug 29, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT
Allen is undecided on playing next season.
Aug 29, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Knicks wing acts as security guard in prank
Aug 29, 2014, 3:33 PM EDT
Bulls have Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic
Aug 29, 2014, 2:47 PM EDT
Colangelo touts Anthony Davis, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, Rudy Gay
Aug 29, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
By also stretching Carlos Delfino, Clippers can sign four veterans to minimum contracts
Aug 29, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
The truth is limited games in an unusual setting don’t provide real answers to how Rose is feeling or will do down the line. What you think this says about Rose really says more about what you think of Rose’s future than anything else.
Aug 29, 2014, 12:40 PM EDT
Thunder center faced year-long ban before declaring for draft
Aug 29, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT
It should be USA/Spain for the gold, everyone else is playing for third.
Aug 29, 2014, 10:59 AM EDT
Shelly Sterling, who’s still tied to the Clippers, ensuring team can’t move on from her husband
Aug 29, 2014, 10:24 AM EDT
Anthony Davis should lead the Pelicans to the playoffs, which would make Monty Williams feel safer.
Aug 29, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
World Peace/Pandas Friend has already reached terms to play in China. Bidding war?
- World Cup Preview: USA vs. Finland, what to expect 1
- James Harden on Kobe Bryant return: “He’s 20-year-old Kobe” 25
- Chris Paul discusses his signature shoe, hoops with media at launch of his Jordan Brand CP3 VIII (VIDEO) 2
- 67RIEFNS No. 1: Tom Thibodeau managing his bigs 22
- Derrick Rose knows injury questions will keep coming. And coming. And coming. 11
- FIBA World Cup preview: USA, Spain, then who else can medal? 2
- Official ‘Clippers’ Number 1 Fan’ on herself and Donald Sterling: ‘I’ll always feel it’s our team’ 18
- Cavaliers GM admits concerns about rim protection on defense 19