Ranking the L.A. Lakers' 10 Best Highlights of the 2012-13 Season to Date
What's frustrating about the Lakers and their pathetic 8-10 start to the season is the potential that lies below the surface, occasionally bubbling up and over like Mount St. Helens coming back for a nightcap.
The hope is that these Lakers are a basketball volcano, mixing up their various parts, players and schemes, waiting for the walking wounded to return to battle and then making that long, glorious run to the finish line which is the NBA World Championship.
For the life of me, I cannot fathom what this team is all about. They confound and confuse much more than confront and compete. Struggling hard to be the eternal optimist, there's a large chunk of me that envisions a sequel to the Karl Malone/Gary Payton experiment of 2003-04.
Those two future Hall of Famers signed with the Lakers very late in their careers with the hopes of winning their first world title playing alongside Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. As Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said to ESPNDallas.com:
“The Lakers have done this before. Gary Payton and Karl Malone and Kobe and Shaq were all together, and it didn’t work (They lost in the Finals to Detroit). It takes great chemistry…It takes guys wanting to be there. I don’t know if all their guys want to be there.”
Cuban might have been referring to Dwight Howard at the time. But, with Mike D'Antoni now running the show in L.A., that could also mean players like Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, both of whom appear to be less than great fits for the coach's run and gun style.
Despite the painfully slow start and despite the more than occasional lazy contributions from key players, and in spite of that fact that Lakers management hired the wrong coach yet again, the Lakers have shown signs of being an exceptional team.
Remember, L.A. has some of the best players in the game on their roster and even under the guise of new systems that don't really maximize their potential, they are still able to make big plays and give Laker Nation some hope for a 17th World Championship.
Let's take a look.
10. Dwight Howard Having Fun and Winning Games in L.A.: It's All Good
Dwight Howard had 28 points and 23 rebounds in a big victory last week against the Denver Nuggets. On a night when the Lakers set a club record with 17 three-pointers, Howard fittingly made the final one on the team's final possession in a 115-89 blowout.
The victory was important for a variety of reasons. The Lakers were coming off a disappointing 79-77 loss earlier in the week at home to the Indiana Pacers.
Howard went through a stretch of several games where he took very few shots, got into foul trouble and was generally the forgotten big man as the Lakers lost games on the road to Sacramento and Memphis by the scores of 113-97 and 106-98, before coming home and playing so poorly against the Pacers.
The victory over Denver was a glimpse of how the Lakers might look over the course of the season in a Mike D'Antoni-led offense. Howard made 12-of-16 from the field and was a monster on the glass.
When everything is working, and it was against Denver, then even the back-to-the-basket center gets enough touches. For one night at least, Dwight Howard rocked the gym in L.A.
9. Darius Morris Shows off PG Skills with Sweet Pass to a Streaking Dwight Howard
Darius Morris has the potential to be an excellent point guard in the NBA. As a second-year player, Morris is just now getting to log some significant minutes because Steve Nash and Steve Blake are out with major injuries.
Darius Morris looked like an All-Star on a play that involved Metta World Peace and Dwight Howard in the Lakers' 108-79 win over the Pistons, their first of the regular season.
Morris took a court-length outlet pass from MWP and, with his head up, fed the streaking Dwight Howard at the rim for a gorgeous slam dunk.
Morris had six points in 15 minutes that night, but would see his time on the court increase substantially after Blake went down with a strained abdominal muscle that would later require surgery.
Steve Blake won't be back in a Lakers uniform for at least two more months. Veteran Chris Duhon is getting more playing time as a result, but Morris will continue to have opportunities to make plays.
8. Jodie Meeks Is Alive and Well and Hitting Threes in Bunches Against Denver
Jodie Meeks was missing in action for much of the early part of the season. Former head coach Mike Brown lost faith in him and kept the shooting guard glued to the bench.
Over the last week or two, new coach Mike D'Antoni finally gave Meeks some substantial minutes and the 6'4" former Kentucky Wildcat is responding with a loud whoosh—the sound of three-pointers raining down from the former Philadelphia 76er.
In their 15 point loss at Sacramento, Meeks finally found his touch. In 16 minutes, Meeks scored 15 points, going 5-of-9 from the field and 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. This is why the Lakers traded for Jodie Meeks in the offseason.
The big highlight came a few nights later when Jodie Meeks found himself in a zone that defied description. He took eight shots from three-point range and made seven of them in L.A.'s convincing win over Denver. In just 17 minutes, Meeks scored 21 points, all of them coming from long distance.
Strangely enough, Mike D'Antoni played Meeks just nine minutes two nights later and the Lakers lost to the struggling Orlando Magic, 113-103. Meeks took three shots and scored three points.
If D'Antoni is going to play an up-tempo, motion offense that relies on guys hitting three point shots, then he needs to keep giving players like Jodie Meeks the opportunities to succeed.
And that means at least 15 minutes on the court per game.
7. Antawn Jamison Finally Breaks out for 33 Points Versus the Nuggets
One good sign for the Lakers is that 6'9" forward Antawn Jamison has scored in double figures in five of his last six games.
We keep reverting to the Denver victory last Friday as a major highlight for many of the Lakers but, after 18 games and a mediocre 8-10 record, there aren't a lot to choose from.
Jamison scored 33 points in 33 minutes against the Nuggets, hitting 13-of-19 shots from the floor. He also made five of 10 three-pointers and collected 12 rebounds.
Aside from the pathetic 79-77 loss to Indiana last Tuesday and a major letdown Sunday against Orlando, the Lakers and Antawn Jamison in particular have stepped it up on the offensive end in recent days. Against the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 24, Jamison hit on 7-of-11 from the field on his way to 19 points. He also grabbed 15 rebounds.
Jamison signed with L.A. this summer because he wants to win his first championship after toiling for 14 seasons in the NBA. Under Mike Brown, Jamison seemed lost and had difficulty scoring from anywhere on the floor even though he was playing about 20 minutes a game.
Antawn Jamison is an ideal fit at the power forward position in an up-tempo, Mike D'Antoni offense, and is sure to get a lot more minutes over the ensuing weeks and months.
The unfortunate reality, however, is that increased efficiency from Antawn Jamison will lead to fewer minutes for Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, the latter being relegated to almost a non-player at this point.
6. Bring Back Bernie: Lakers Interim Coach Went 4-1 While Waiting for D'Antoni
How's this for a highlight: Under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, the L.A. Lakers went 4-1 and were just three points away from being undefeated and 5-0.
There's a fairly sizable contingent of Bickerstaff supporters who would like to see him take over the team full time, especially in light of Mike D'Antoni's early struggles to win ballgames. Bernie Bickerstaff exuded confidence and a calm nature that seemed to inspire the Lakers and free them up to play more and think less.
Under D'Antoni, the Lakers are 3-4 heading into Houston tonight. In a very young season that has seen three men direct the Lakers in a little over one month, stability is what they need most. Bernie Bickerstaff seemed to provide that in his short stint and, thankfully, still resides on the bench during games only now he is directly behind his replacement.
5. Kobe Bryant Is Having an MVP Season
Kobe Bryant is the best 34-year old playing in the NBA. He also may be the most valuable player for the entire league, all ages included.
One big highlight of this young season has been the extraordinary play of the 16-year veteran shooting guard who has played his entire career in Los Angeles.
Kobe Bryant came to training camp fresh from winning his second Olympic Gold Medal, with a bounce in his step that fans have not seen for several years.
Although the Lakers lost their season home opener to the Clippers (105-95), Kobe Bryant was nearly unstoppable. He hit on 14-of-23 shots in 43 minutes, scoring 40 points to go along with six rebounds and two steals.
In another loss to Sacramento, Bryant put in 38 on 11-20 shooting. And against the Houston Rockets, and without point guards Steve Blake or Steve Nash, Bryant had 11 assists, 11 rebounds and 22 points in one of his best all-around games of the year.
What's made Kobe Bryant an MVP this season has been his efficiency in all areas. As Lakers color analyst Stu Lantz (Time Warner Cable Sports) likes to say: "Kobe can score as much as he wants any time he wants."
The key, though, is to get his teammates involved, which Kobe Bryant has been doing this season.
4. Dwight Howard Getting His Legs Back: Amazing in the Paint
Dwight Howard is a defensive superstar, first and foremost, and six-time All Star.
Howard is a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He probably would have captured a fourth straight award last season had he not gone down in March due to a herniated disk.
Howard is making a remarkable recovery from back surgery earlier this year. The bounce is not yet a hundred percent there, but it's getting close.
And we are seeing glimpses of what Dwight Howard can do defensively.
Notice the spring on this one particular highlight, a major block on the Nets center Brook Lopez in a Nov. 20 game that the Lakers won, 95-90, at Staples Center.
Howard is a tremendous defensive player. The problem with the Lakers thus far is that he's not getting a lot of defensive help down the stretch and the Lakers are losing big leads and games. They gave up 40 points in the fourth quarter and lost to the Magic on Sunday and then squandered a 17 point cushion late against Houston on Tuesday and lost that game as well.
Dwight Howard will continue to dominate on defense, but he'll need help for the Lakers to become a true contender this year.
3. Lakers Beat Kings, 103-90, Dwight Howard Goes for 23 and 18
It's been an interesting start to a new season in a new uniform for the league's top center. Dwight Howard has worked hard to get back in shape after going down late last season with a back injury.
His breakout game may have come in a win against the Sacramento Kings on Nov. 21. In 39 minutes, Howard poured in a very efficient 23 points on 8-14 shooting.
Howard made 7-of-13 free throws but more importantly, he grabbed 18 rebounds, including 12 on the defensive end.
Dwight Howard has shown the ability to dominate a game on the defensive end and the Lakers will need all that this year if they hope to advance deep in the playoffs.
Thus far, Howard is averaging 3.3 less rebounds per game than last season but those numbers will go up as the season goes on. He is blocking 2.6 shots per contest, which is better than all but two of Dwight Howard's eight years in the NBA.
2. Kobe Bryant on the Lob to Dwight Howard
The Lakers lost this game, 84-82, to the Spurs, but they were starting to show some of the magic they think will be there late in the season when the team makes a playoff run.
Kobe Bryant loves to score but he loves to win even more. So, throwing a lob down to a moving Dwight Howard, is beautiful music to No. 24.
Bryant is passing and he's scoring. His 39 points against the Rockets on Tuesday should have been enough for the Lakers to win, especially since they held a 17-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.
The Rockets won by two because the Lakers defense fell apart in the last four minutes, not because Kobe Bryant took too many shots.
1. Kobe on the Steal and the Dunk Versus the Pacers
There are new pieces and there are old pieces, but this year's version of the Lakers doesn't seem to be playing any better than last year's team.
Except for one Kobe Bryant. In a 79-77 loss last week to the Indiana Pacers at Staples Center, Kobe Bryant went off for 40 points. He outscored the rest of his team (37), while adding 10 assists, three rebounds and three steals.
Yes, Bryant had 10 turnovers against the Pacers but some of those were excellent passes that went through the hands of his teammates.
The steal and subsequent dunk by Kobe Bryant is a highlight that Lakers fans have grown accustomed to over 16 seasons. But they never get old.
Kobe Bryant would gladly trade in all of his highlight reels for just one more championship. He plays for nothing more than to win a title and another ring.
The Lakers appear lost in yet another system from another coach who doesn't really seem to understand his personnel. The season is still relatively young and a healthy Steve Nash should help the Lakers become a more potent offense.
Kobe Bryant will have many more highlights in 2012-13, but if he doesn't get the help he needs to close out games, the Lakers will go home early again come next spring.