So I tried my hardest not to overreact to the Lakers woeful start. I kept them inside the top ten in my power rankings for weeks, I defended both Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, demanded we wait for Steve Nash and Pau Gasol to be healthy, and while I didn’t think Mike Brown got a fair shake this year, I supported the hiring of Mike D’Antoni. But then the Lakers lost 6 of 7, defeating only the New Orleans Hornets (Pelicans) and looked terrible in the losing streak. All players outside of the great Kobe Bryant looked out of their element, even all-world center Dwight Howard to my shock. The offense was relying on Kobe’s one on one play and the defense….well the defense showed not only a lack of execution but a lack of effort that was shameful for players making a living playing this sport. Time and again the Lakers refused to fight over screens or step in to take charges, causing even a staunch believer in there team makeup to abandon ship.
|“Yeah Guys, I can still DOMINATE”|
Then, with an easy Eastern Conference trip in its sights, the team rallied around the pleading of their coach and Kobe for a greater effort. They notched wins against the lowly Washington Wizards, the quickly fading Philadelphia 76ers, and just edged the Charlotte Bobcats by a point in Pau Gasol’s return from a sore knee. 3 in a row, surely a positive sign, but the Bobcats game, a game Charlotte should have won despite poor late game execution, was a concern. Then the long awaited return for point guard Steve Nash in the tilt against in-state “rival” Golden State. Lakers fans FINALLY were rewarded with a quality game by their team. The Warriors, one of the true pleasant surprises in the league this year, played well, but were matched by the Lakers point for point. Eventually we saw this game go into overtime and for the 8th game in a row Kobe Bryant scored 30 or more points and helped the Lakers edge the Warriors by three in OT. Steve Nash looked fluid in his return, showing no ill effects of his leg injury in dropping 12 points and dishing out 9 dimes.
Then came Christmas day; The team was to face off against the Atlantic Division favorite New York Knicks who have been one of the best teams in the league so far this year. We had seen the offensive execution click in Golden State, but in this game we saw what had been missing. What we saw from the Lakers yesterday was defense. Actual defense! Not lethargic, half-assed, don’t-bench-me-coach defense, but actual hard nosed NO EASY BUCKETS defense. Dwight Howard looked like the defensive force we all know in shutting down the paint in the second half. Evidence of this was the fact that Tyson Chandler failed to shoot over 50% in a game for just the 4th time this year as he was limited in his normal alley-oop barrage.
Offensively, Kobe still led the way scoring 34 on 14 of 24 from the field. This was the 9th game in a row in which Kobe scored over 30 and he did it with remarkable efficiency. Steve Nash was also excellent providing his teammates with easy looks and helping to push the tempo on his way to a game high 11 assists to go along with 16 points. World Peace also scored 20.
I am not here to say the Lakers are the team to beat, far from it right now. They still trail teams like the Thunder, Spurs, and that other team from LA (who has won 14 straight as most of our readers know) in the west , but from now on they need to be looked at as a contender. Their poor start was overblown and they are ready to make a run. Western Conference contenders be warned.
(as a Celtics fan, this was painful to write)