The Lakers are finally starting to play as a team and not a group of individual All-Stars.
Everyone needs to just settle down—yours truly included. While the Los Angeles Lakers are still battling to remain intact, stay afloat and show resilience, they are not dead yet and may be turning that proverbial corner their fans have been waiting months to see happen.
Although circumstances, records and personnel are different, the Lakers can take solace and learn a thing or two from the Miami Heat of 2010-11. After struggling out of the starting gate (9-8) that year, the Heat found their collective center and finished the season 58-24 and as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
But, the Lakers were in a tailspin of injuries, coaching changes, coaching philosophies, backbiting, ego issues and other maladies that threatened to take them out of the race early. That is, until this past weekend, when the team suddenly took on a different aura in bouncing the Utah Jazz and, most impressively, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Lakers will never match Miami's 2010-11 win-loss record, as they already have 25 defeats. But after defeating the New Orleans Hornets Tuesday night at Staples Center, L.A. has won three in a row and are just four games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, currently held by Houston.
LeBron James and the Heat promised their fans seven titles when he, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh hosted a preseason celebration for themselves in 2010. It took them a couple seasons to jell and finally win it all in 2012.
For anyone who debunks the theory of a superstar title team, they need only to look at clubs like Miami to see that it is possible. Perhaps what has, until now, been a disaster has suddenly become a focused pursuit of a playoff spot and the opportunity to get over .500 by the All-Star break.
What's changed? For starters, the Lakers trust each other. And their coach, Mike D'Antoni, has backed off on his insistence that they run up and down the court on every possession.
Their two leaders, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, have been advocating more of a half-court traditional offense, and Steve Nash is now taking more shots than he has in many years—which is a good thing since he's one of the league's all-time great shooters (49 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range for his career).
There was a time back in 2010-11 when LeBron James was not yet ready to assume his role as leader of the Heat, and it hurt. He took a lot of outside criticism and eventually became comfortable carrying the torch.
Dwight Howard faces a similar hurdle in L.A., and he too seems to be finally accepting a leadership role.
Bryant has made it a point to facilitate and trust his teammates. In just the last three games, Kobe has averaged 13 assists, while the team set a season high for dimes against the Hornets with 34.
The really big test comes now for the Lakers. Tuesday night marks the start of a seven-game road trip, which happens every year at this time due to the Grammy Awards being held in L.A. Upcoming opponents include Phoenix (the return of Steve Nash), Minnesota, Detroit, Brooklyn, Boston, Charlotte and Miami.
The Lakers could easily go 6-1 or 5-2 on this trip, which will end February 10 in Miami.
A week ago, everyone would have laughed had Mike D'Antoni said the Lakers could win every game on their Grammy trip. He said as much Tuesday night after the Hornets game, and there wasn't a trace of laughter.
Bosh, James and Wade persevered and left their egos at the door, helping Miami to its title last year. They are on the path to repeat this season.
The Lakers just may have caught themselves before free fall and, like the Heat, are finding out that superstars can exist and thrive in a team game.