I have to admit, it has been nice to see the LA Lakers play well in back-to-back games after that rough six-game losing streak.
The fact that victories came against Cleveland and Milwaukee mean absolutely nothing in comparison to the manner with which those victories were earned. For the first time that I've seen in 2013, the Lakers looked the part of a team that was supposed to contend.
From the sharing of the basketball (62 assists in two games), to Dwight Howard's production (26.5 ppg, 15 rpg, 2.5 bpg) inside, to Kobe being Kobe (27 pts, 6 asts), the stars have shone nicely.
But what's more encouraging has been the buzzword that has been floating around time and time again: Effort.
Quite simply, the Lakers played harder than the Cavs and Bucks in these last two games. Believe it or not, that is going to win this team games. The truth is, Los Angeles has looked more Hollywood than downtown for most of the season, and the record has borne that out.
But going forward, if the Lakers play like a desperate team, as they have these last two games, there will be no question of their playoff status. It is still to be determined how far they will go in the postseason, but at this point, just getting there will be a nice reward for what would be an increased sense of urgency.
All that said, much is going to be made of the game Thursday night against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the world champs from Miami.
And that is great.
But truthfully, that game is not as great a harbinger for future success as the stretch that follows it.
You see, right now the Lakers are a terrible road team (5-12 as of this writing).
And guess what? So are the Miami Heat, who dropped to 9-10 after their loss in Utah Monday night.
What's more fascinating is that both teams got to those points by appearing to play in second gear, when each is starting to realize that they'll have to win in fifth.
Age or not, the Lakers can't coast against even average teams and win. They just don't have that kind of margin for error.
So win or lose, I will be interested to see if the hustle, effort and defensive improvement carry over away from Staples Center. All of the Lakers' road games have been difficult, save for the blowout against Dallas in late November and a pair of impressive showings in New Orleans and Philadelphia. So you can't look at their upcoming schedule against Toronto or Phoenix and mark W's.
Not this year.
After Thursday, Mike D'Antoni's new season will really begin.
Thirteen games with 10 on the road. If the Lakers play at a 29-percent winning clip (or about three wins), it will be time to re-assess things. That's the harbinger of things to come for the 2013 season.
So enjoy the "showdown" at Staples on Thursday. That's all for show.
The substance of this season will be all about how they do away from Los Angeles.
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