5 Signs That LA Lakers Are Back on Championship Track After Slow Start
For the first week of the season, the only story that existed was the Lakers' terrible start, losing their first three games before finally beating down the Detroit Pistons. Of course, ever since then they have been doing fine at 6-3, a respectable record, especially considering they are without Steve Nash.
What Los Angeles has done is weather the storm, ignore the chaos going on around them (like the entire Phil Jackson-Jim Buss saga) and just continued to play basketball. Basically, they did nothing different—it all just started to click.
Now that they've got their coach, Dwight Howard's back is starting to act up less often and Kobe Bryant's playing amazing basketball. The Lakers are very much back in the championship hunt, although I don't think you could really say they were out of it in the first place.
More likely, there are a few reasons why talking about the Lakers and a title in the same paragraph won't get overreactions from people talking about their terrible start.
All stats are as of November 25, 2012.
Kobe Bryant's Sustained Brilliance
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There was a point early on in the season when the only guy on the Lakers playing consistent basketball was Kobe Bryant. Well, Kobe has continued to play consistently, but the rest of the team has decided to catch up with him.
Kobe's consistency isn't the same as it has been in years past. Instead, he's shooting the lights out and showing no signs of wavering in the near future.
Initially, it was easy to write off Kobe's hot start as an anomaly, but with nearly 20 percent of the Lakers season in the books, it's hard to ignore what he's done.
His 51 percent from the field would be a career high, as would his 42-percent three-point rate and his 87-percent clip from the line. Kobe now has so many offensive weapons around him that he can easily be more selective about the shots he takes.
Kobe is just playing differently. Instead of settling for mid-range jumpers (which accounted for 44 percent of his shots a season ago compared to 31 percent this season), he's getting to the rim a lot more, shooting 30 percent of his shots in the restricted area, rather than 17 percent from inside last season.
Antawn Jamison in a D'Antoni Offense
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For the first few weeks of the season, Antawn Jamison started to look like he was a terrible pickup for the Lakers. He spent his time in Mike Brown and Bernie Bickerstaff's offenses taking just a few shots per game, never really getting into a flow.
Once Mike D'Antoni came to town and realized that he had in Jamison a big man who could spread the floor and shoot threes, he fell in love.
Jamison has come on in the past two games, shooting 7-11 in both games, scoring 16 and 19 points while corralling long rebounds. Basically, he's doing exactly what we thought he could when the Lakers picked him up in the offseason.
Metta World Peace's Ridiculousness
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There's no way to explain what is happening with Metta World Peace, but considering the ebb and flow of MWP's career, it's not hard to say that we're not surprised. Nobody could have predicted it, but nobody is really doubting it either.
He's taken over the role of wing shooter, as Kobe has turned into a point guard with the Lakers lacking distributors in the past week, and it's worked out very well. World Peace is back to both attacking the rim off the dribble and getting open shots, therefore making him a more effective player on offense.
Instead of being a perimeter enforcer, World Peace is a huge option in this offense, averaging 14 points per game, nearly double his average last season.
MWP has been even more impressive under D'Antoni, averaging over 16 points per game and shooting an incredible 52 percent in the course of those four games. Will he regress? Probably, but it doesn't look like he's going to fall apart any time soon.
Dwight Howard's Defensive Pickup
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There is something still not right about Dwight Howard's game—that much is obvious. It seems less like there's going to be a fine line between a healthy and an injured Howard, but more like his back injury will flare up at times for an undetermined length of time.
That being said, Howard has looked much more active on defense for the Lakers over the course of the past week, blocking shots like we've known him to over the past few years.
Howard is still an up-and-down rebounder and scorer after his back surgery last May, but what he has been able to do is stabilize himself below the rim. Once he gets back to full health, or as close to it as possible, he'll be able to get back to playing above the rim.
Kobe Bryant's Giving Nature
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Kobe Bryant was a very formulaic player last season. It was a unique formula and it was different than any other player in the league, but he was consistent in his style of play.
Only seven times did Kobe end up with eight or more assists in a game during his 58 contests last season. This season he's already up to three games with eight or more helpers, and he's hit double-digits once, something he hasn't done since February of 2011.
On top of that, Kobe is just plain shooting less, fine to make a pass that won't necessarily lead to an assist, but one that will lead to a pass that leads to an assist. Kobe's season high on field-goal attempts this season is just 24, a number he surpassed 21 times last season.
So what does this all mean in the grand scheme of things? Well, it seems that the hunch many people had coming into the season is correct. Kobe is not only ready but willing to take fewer shots for the greater good of the team, something that's huge for a team with so many star players.
There's a lot to like about this Lakers team, and despite the fact that they are just 7-7, they definitely look like they're on the way toward being title contenders.