After their early playoff exit, the Lakers were harshly criticized for their lackadaisical performance, and many desired that the Lakers begin to rebuild.
While the Lakers have gone through numerous changes over the past year, they’re still one of the best teams in the West, despite being continuously doubted during the offseason.
The Lakers have played so well as of late that I’m convinced that they’ll do better this year in the playoffs than they did last year.
Here are 11 reasons why.
Last season, the Lakers’ biggest weakness was at point guard.
Derek Fisher and Steve Blake didn’t produce offensively, and they were a huge liability defensively, especially against teams with quick, athletic point guards.
This year in the playoffs, the Lakers will not have this problem because they acquired Ramon Sessions.
Unlike Fisher, Sessions can score efficiently and make plays for his teammates on a consistent basis.
Although he’s not very adept defensively, he can still use his agility to his advantage—he doesn’t have to rely on dirty play and flopping like Fisher often depended on.
Session’s abilities can be further utilized when Bryant, Bynum, and/or Gasol aren’t playing at their best—Sessions can provide intensity and an offensive spark.
In addition, Sessions' ability to get others involved may allow the bench to score more points.
The Lakers no longer have a big two—they now have a dominant trio.
Last season, Andrew Bynum played in only 54 games and averaged 11 points per game and nine rebounds per game.
He wasn’t a huge factor in the playoffs either, averaging 14.4 points per game and 9.6 rebounds per game.
This season, teams have to worry about him because he’s playing out of his mind.
Averaging 18.7 points per game and 11.8 rebounds per game, teams will have trouble containing him in the playoffs, unlike in years past.
Pau Gasol disappeared in the playoffs when he averaged only 13.1 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game on only 42 percent shooting from the field.
Throughout the season, Gasol has preached a sense of urgency, which indicates that he’ll play consistently in the playoffs this year.
Gasol has been the most consistent Laker this season, and I expect him to continue his dominance as a dynamic scorer and passer.
Kobe Bryant’s injuries were a few of the major reasons why the Mavericks swept the Lakers last season.
In addition to his finger and knee problems, Bryant sprained his ankle against the Hornets in the first round of the playoffs.
This year in the playoffs, injuries shouldn’t be a cause of concern.
Bryant has had a lot of time to rest his other injuries—he sat out eight games earlier this month.
Furthermore, his knee is doing a lot better since he underwent surgery during the summer.
As a result, it’s reasonable to believe that Bryant will play tremendously better this year in the playoffs than last year when he averaged a low 22.8 points per game.
Rebounding is important in any NBA game, but especially in the playoffs when games are about grinding it out.
While the Lakers were a good rebounding team last year, they’re even better this year.
The Lakers are a close second in the league in rebounding—the team averages 46.3 per game.
In addition, they out-rebound opponents by five rebounds per game—the second highest differential in the league.
Rebounding and second chance points will be a catalyst for success, especially because the Lakers have a great size advantage over many of the teams in the West.
Although the Lakers offense is stagnant at times, they are actually one of the best passing teams in the league.
Over 60 percent of their field goals are the result of an assist, a number higher than last years.
The Lakers ability to share the ball shows that they have high team chemistry.
Lack of passing doomed the Lakers last season in the playoffs.
In Game 4 against the Mavericks, the Lakers had 16 assists as a team, while the Mavs had 32.
A team that trusts each other wins championships—the Dallas Mavericks are the perfect example of that.
The playoff field should benefit the Lakers this year.
As the three-seed, they’ll either play the Denver Nuggets or the Dallas Mavericks in the first round—two teams that they know they can beat.
In round two, they’ll either play the inexperienced Thunder or the aging Spurs—again, two teams they can beat with their size advantage.
The good thing is that the Lakers won’t have to play the Memphis Grizzlies in the early rounds, a team that matches up perfectly with the Lakers.
While the Lakers have blown quite a few leads this season, they are actually one of the best crunch time teams in the league.
In fact, they have the highest team +/- in crunch time with a plus-79, which is a significant improvement over last year’s team’s +/-.
Certainly, the Lakers success in the closing moments of games will help them in the playoffs.
The team’s confidence and ability in closing minutes may be the deciding factor in the biggest games of the season.
From the benching of Kobe Bryant to the benching of Andrew Bynum, Mike Brown’s coaching has come into question quite often this season.
Although the criticism of Brown has some merit, Brown’s bold moves may help the Lakers in the playoffs.
Just take a look at what he did on Sunday night against the Thunder—he benched Bynum in favor of Jordan Hill, who had a double-double.
Mike Brown has a good feel for the players on his team, and it’s moves like he made on Sunday that can be a cause of a championship run.
I, as well as pretty much everyone who watches the Lakers, have been very critical of the Lakers’ bench play this season.
However, after seeing Devin Ebanks and Jordan Hill play on Sunday against the Thunder, I’m tempted to change my mind.
Unlike last year, the Lakers have bench players who know their role.
Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks know they need to play well defensively, Jordan Hill and Josh McRoberts know they need to rebound, and Steve Blake knows he needs to pass.
Bench players who don’t stray away from their assigned duty can provide the extra push necessary for playoff teams to reach the finals.
After being swept by the Dallas Mavericks last season, the Lakers’ vulnerabilities were made too evident.
Not only did they become a laughingstock, but they were also criticized for immaturity and lack of desire.
The Lakers don’t want this offseason to be like that of last year.
Instead, they are determined to win a title.
Losing has become even more unacceptable.