I still believe in this Los Angeles Lakers team, largely because we still haven't seen "this" Lakers team play together yet.
The team that went winless in preseason and looked horrible doing it?
That team was coached by Mike Brown and didn't have Dwight Howard.
The team that's stumbled out to a comfortably sub-.500 record with embarrassing losses to the Magic and Cavaliers of the world? The no-defense-playin', free-throw-brickin', old, slow, turnover machine of a team that is currently on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture looking in?
That team is playing without its first- and second-team point guards, has never had its world-class power forward at full health and is adjusting to a new coach in Mike D'Antoni, who has had neither a training camp nor a full-strength regular season to get to know his group.
The mention of the Lakers' PG injury troubles is Smug Laker Hater's cue to bound out of his hate throne and bellow, "You think Steve Nash is going to help your defense?!!!"
To which I respond, "Yeah." I think Steve Nash is going to help the Lakers' defense.
It's not like the Lakers signed him to play middle linebacker—basketball is a two-way game. And right now, the Lakers' offense is one of the biggest problems with the Lakers' defense.
They're one of the worst turnover teams in basketball, and that's leading to fast-break and early-offense buckets for the opposition. A lot of the blame for the turnover issues falls on the current PG tandem of Chris Duhon and Darius Morris, which just might be the worst in the NBA.
Duhon should be at the end of the bench playing garbage-time minutes and providing a solid, veteran locker-room presence. Morris should be in the D-League honing his decision making and ball security—aka learning to be an NBA PG.
Instead, they're both playing major minutes for a supposed NBA title contender, challenging for the league assists-to-the-other-team title.
Which is not to say that transition defense is the Lakers' only problem. Their half-court D has been abysmal as well. But hard-nosed defense is largely a product of effort and energy. Guys tend to exert more effort and energy when they're getting their buckets on the offensive end.
Hopefully, the Nash Principle is kind of like those California cheese commercials: Happy teams play better D. Easy buckets make teams happy. Steve Nash gets teams easy buckets.
Besides, the Lakers' D won't even have to be all that good if they get Nash, Pau Gasol and Steve Blake back and get into the "rack up the points now, ask questions later" system that D'Antoni wants.
Which brings us to the coach that some are suggesting will be the second to get an in-season pink slip from Mitch Kupchak this season.
It's already fairly clear that D'Antoni isn't the perfect coach for this Lakers roster. But he doesn't have to be. Erik Spoelstra and Scott Brooks aren't the perfect coaches for the Heat and Thunder, but those teams have every intention of meeting up for a Finals rematch in June.
D'Antoni is competent and he's already shown a willingness to adapt to his personnel, despite what many critics are saying (okay, Magic, we get it).
In the last few games, he's worked in more straight post-ups for Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant, going away from his famed pick-and-roll-heavy sets. He's gone to Jordan Hill over Antawn Jamison as a starter in Gasol's absence, favoring Hill's energy and defense over Jamison's court-spreading skills that would seem to fit the stereotypical "D'Antoni player" profile.
Granted, the results haven't been there yet. But I'm leaning on the old adage that things are never as good as they seem when they're going well and never as bad as they seem when they're going to hell.
I believe that this Lakers team can fight back into the playoff picture and be the team nobody wants to face in a seven-game series. And if "this" team shows it can't get it done, I believe Kupchak and the front office will take the decisive action to build a functional contender around the Kobe-Dwight core.
And I'm not the only one—check the Vegas odds boards. The Lakers are still one of the top few favorites to win the NBA title. Those numbers are, of course, skewed by the betting dollars of the vast Lakers Nation, but they reflect a simple truth: There are only a few teams whom you can really picture hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June.
The Lakers are still one of those teams. If they can fight through this adversity to find cohesiveness by playoff time, they'll be a fearsome beast indeed.
So I advise Smug Laker Hater to enjoy the view from above while it lasts. See you in the spring.
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