5 Positive Signs from the L.A. Lakers' Early-Season Games
Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
Contrary to popular belief, the Los Angeles Lakers have not fallen off a cliff. And, no, that three-alarm blaze you heard about in downtown was not a call to rescue the purple and gold from burning down before the first week of the regular season had even ended.
The Lakers actually won a game on Sunday. Sure, it was against the lowly, inept, ragged Detroit Pistons, but a win is a win and Mike Brown's club has been on a serious mission in search of victories since last May.
As the Lakers headed to Utah for a game Wednesday against the Jazz, their record stood at a mediocre 1-3 and the questions surrounding the makeup and future of this team were many. Yet, there are a number of reasons to believe these Lakers are going to turn it around sooner than later.
The Lakers of Sunday's impressive 108-79 win over the Pistons more closely resembled the team that architect Mitch Kupchak and coach Mike Brown envisioned when training camp opened a little over a month ago.
The schedule makers have been kind to L.A. After tonight's game in Salt Lake City, the Lakers return home for six straight at Staples Center.
And while Steve Nash remains sidelined with a broken foot and boatloads of issues remain, the Lakers have enough positives to make a case for a very successful campaign.
Kobe Bryant is healthy, energetic and scoring with great efficiency
Kobe Bryant says he may play till he's 40—that would be ok with most Lakers fans.
Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
In obvious reference to the critiques over the Lakers' use of the Princeton Offense, Bryant posted this quote and comment on Facebook a few days ago:
From the legendary Miles Davis: "You have to know 400 notes that you can play, then pick the right four."
Mamba: "The process takes work and dedication, no matter the profession."
It's obvious that the Princeton is a boon to a player like Bryant. Accustomed to a ball movement offense (Triangle), Kobe has been exceptional through four games despite a sore ankle that's been keeping him out of the practice gym.
Bryant scored 40 points on 14-of-23 from the field against the Clippers last Friday. He tallied 15 in the blowout of Detroit and was able to sit out much of the fourth quarter before Brown put the starters back in to ensure the victory. He credits the new offense scheme, a work in progress.
"The [offense] opens the floor up a little bit more," Bryant told ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin. "I have the ball and move a little bit more. The other part of that, I've been healthy all summer and have been able to get in phenomenal shape. I feel very strong, despite the ankle. I'm shooting the ball very well."
Dwight Howard at 85 percent is still the best in the NBA
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Dwight Howard has been one big, 6'11" positive for the Lakers thus far and one giant headache for opposing centers.
While a number of pundits had the league's best defensive player first returning to action in December or even January, Howard has been more than a pleasant surprise early, and looks very close to being the Dwight Howard he was prior to his being shut down last year with a career threatening back injury.
Through four games, Howard was averaging 23.3 points on 69 percent shooting and 10 rebounds per game. For a guy who is trying to work himself back into game shape after an extensive six-month layoff and rehab, he sure looks like the real deal.
Howard is a happy, fun-loving person off the court but has been all business when the game starts. He attributes the Lakers' slow start to a couple of factors having to do with age and new surroundings.
"We've got a lot of old guys on the team, and I haven't played in a while," Howard told David Leon Moore of USA Today. "It takes some time to get it going. That's not an excuse, but that's what's going on. Our energy just has not been what it should have been."
Howard continues to refer to the gradual development of the Lakers as a process. It took the Miami Heat of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade a couple of months together to overcome mediocrity when they first came together as a unit.
The Lakers of 2012-13 may be on a similar path. But it sure does look like Dwight Howard knows where he is headed and that can only be good for Lakers fans.
Jordan Hill Is Developing into a Legitimate NBA Big Man
Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
Jordan Hill was signed this summer to a two-year, $8 million extension with the Lakers based on a very productive short run at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.
Hill spent much of training camp nursing a back injury—more specifically, a herniated disc. He now appears to be relatively healthy and, if his performance off the bench against Detroit on Sunday is any indication, may provide much needed bench help for the Lakers moving forward.
Coming off the bench, Hill had 11 points and seven rebounds in just 19 minutes and looked spry and energetic doing it.
The 6'11" former first-round draft pick of the New York Knicks is just 25 and in his fourth NBA season with a lot of upside potential. The Lakers are counting on him to spell both Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard with the game against Detroit being the perfect example of that strategy. At times, Hill will be on the court with one of those two big men and those combinations could prove extremely effective in controlling the paint on both ends.
A Fit Metta World Peace Has Rediscovered His Game
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Last season is one that Metta World Peace would just as soon forget. So far, he's done everything to accomplish that and is eager to prove he can still play at a very high level in the NBA.
After a stellar training camp where he looked to be in the best shape of his career, MWP floundered as the Lakers opened the regular season 0-3. He wasn't the only Laker who looked lost, but all was forgotten on Sunday when MWP scored 18 points on 7-11 shooting.
He added five rebounds and four assists, including a beautiful long-distance pass to guard Darius Morris who then threw up a lob to the trailing Dwight Howard for a slam dunk.
MWP knows what a lousy year he had and he's done something about it, losing close to 20 pounds and getting into great shape for the new campaign. And he is still the biggest character in the Lakers locker room.
At Last, There's Life on the Lakers Bench
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
It's only one game, but there is reason to be optimistic that the Lakers' infamous bench is finally starting to take hold.
Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill, Steve Blake (a temporary starter), Darius Morris, Chris Duhon and Robert Sacre aren't going to scare off anyone just yet, but recent play is suggesting that the Lakers bench should and could be much improved over a year ago, when it was probably the worst in the NBA.
Sunday's win over Detroit will never compare to a battle with Miami, Oklahoma City or San Antonio, but it did represent a significant improvement for the beleaguered Lakers bench. Hill had 11 points, Jamison finally hit a three-pointer while scoring six points with five rebounds and Morris had his most complete performance yet, with six points and two assists in 15 minutes.
It wasn't spectacular but it was better and it should be just the start of a bench resurgence. Players like Jamison and Meeks are perfectly capable of big minutes and big points. Hill should regularly score 8-10 points and gather 6-7 rebounds per game.
The Lakers have a whole season and 78 regular season games left—an eternity in any league. The book is still out on the bench and the entire Mike Brown system, but it does look like the Lakers may finally be on the right road.
That road will eventually lead to the NBA Finals, perhaps even this season.