Los Angeles Lakers: Have They Found Their Mojo?

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Los Angeles Lakers: Have They Found Their Mojo?
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When last we met, I was opining that the Lakers needed to recapture their mojo. They’d completely lost their swagger.

Well Lakers fans, here we are halfway through the Lakers’ Grammy road trip. Things are looking a lot better now, with the Lakers current road record at 3-1.

It really should have been 4-0, because as every Lakers fan knows, the Lakers should have beaten Phoenix. But they did not, and the best possible spin on it is that it gave the Lakers a serious scare and emphasized how narrow their margin for error really is.

They need to be competitive every single game. They are long past the point of taking the night off against inferior opponents. The effort must be there every night, just as it was at home against Oklahoma City. 

Otherwise, they are going to be sitting home in May. Nobody wants that. 

So what can we say about the Lakers, as we sit a few games away from the All Star break? As usual, everything starts with Kobe Bryant. I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that Kobe Bryant saved Mike D’Antoni’s job.

Yeah, I said it. 

Here’s why: When Kobe switched from scorer mode to facilitator mode, everything changed for this team.

Prior to that, the team was struggling, and there was a groundswell among the fans and the media that D’Antoni was the wrong coach with the wrong system. The losses that piled up seemed to prove that point. 

If you had told me at the beginning of this season that Kobe was going to be the hot hand with assists and Steve Nash would be encouraged to shoot, shoot, shoot even at the expense of his point guard duty, I would have laughed you out of the room. Honestly, a lot of people would have done the same thing. It was unthinkable. 

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But something had to change after the train-wreck beginning of the season.

And so the unlikeliest of transformations happened: Kobe started dishing the ball. With relish.

Why not move into orchestrator mode, thereby letting Nash shoot and take some of the pressure off of him running the offense? Defenses constantly have to account for Nash shooting now. Maybe if Nash hadn’t been out so long with injury, his ease at point guard with his new teammates would have come in time. In fact, I’m sure it would – Nash is no dummy.

But time is the one thing the Lakers don’t have. They need wins any way they can wrest them from their opponents. 

The other thing Kobe as point guard does is open up the floor and give his other teammates shot opportunities. It’s kind of brilliant. Kobe can create his shot anytime, anywhere. Period. Like this. So defenses have to respect that, even if he is passing the ball left and right.

You want to be the guy that sags off Kobe so you can lend help on Antawn Jamison? Good luck with that. Kobe just drilled a three. 

It also gives the rest of the guys the message I always talk about: It’s not the Los Angeles Kobes. It’s the Los Angeles Lakers.

Kobe getting his teammates involved in the offense shows he has expectations for them. It also helps the team invest in defense. I know it’s kind of a nerdy theory, but I think when you’ve been heavily involved in putting up hard-won points, it renews your resolve to hunker down and protect those points from a defensive standpoint. 

There is a lot of tough basketball ahead. But I think the Lakers have shown themselves, never mind us, something. They are fighters.

Going forward, that means every man has to commit to ferocious defense and 48 minutes of basketball. That also means the Lakers have to solve the nagging problem of blowing big leads in the second half. Put away teams early and keep your foot on the gas.

You don’t want to be in a situation come playoff time where you are out of the tournament because you lost one or two winnable games. That has to be preached constantly. 

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I wonder if we’ll ever find out what led to this change? Was it organic? To me that seems the most likely scenario. Because the players are absolutely NOT running D’Antoni’s run-and-gun offense. I highly doubt, though, that they had some sort of mutinous players meeting where they said, "Forget that nonsense, let’s have Kobe run point."

First of all, I bet Steve Nash would view that as incredibly disloyal to D’Antoni. I think it more just sort of…..happened. They did have a clear-the-air meeting prior to the Utah game, but this specific topic—switching Kobe to point—doesn’t appear to have come up.

And no way did D’Antoni dream this up.

He basically held the Lakers offense in limbo while waiting for Steve Nash to return from his leg injury, thinking that would magically fix everything. That was a pipe dream.

The 2012-13 Lakers are nothing like the mid 2000s Suns. They are a lot older and slower. But I’ve always maintained that what they lack in speed and youth they make up for in basketball smarts and experience.

The proof was in the win against Oklahoma City. They frustrated Russell Westbrook and dug in on defense. In the process, they showed themselves something: They can win against the best in the NBA. Interesting note raised by Bill Macdonald and Stu Lantz (the Lakers Time Warner channel TV announcers): They pointed out that since Nash and Kobe went all Freaky Friday, the Lakers have lost ONE game. That is an amazing stat. 

And now they leave Brooklyn with another win in their pocket. That says something, especially when you consider how shorthanded they were: No Dwight Howard, still out with a shoulder injury, Metta World Peace suspended for one game and Pau Gasol out in the final minutes of the fourth to a foot injury.

Huge credit to all the Lakers who stepped up, especially Earl Clark who is putting on a clinic every game of what 100-percent-max-effort basketball looks like. 

The road trip is not over, and contests with the Celtics, Bobcats and Heat remain. But suddenly, hitting the All Star break with a .500 record doesn’t seem out of the question.

If they Lakers can do that, I think they can head into the final portion of the season with some momentum. And maybe put a scare into some of the teams that are above them in the standings. 

It’s weird to think that about the Lakers. We’re so used to them being the big dogs atop the Western Conference standings. Unfortunately, the hole they dug themselves at the beginning of the season precludes that.

But the Lakers have found some kind of identity in their "us against the world" desperation mode. 

Any team that overlooks them does so at their peril.

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