Trying to figure out the psyche of the Los Angeles Lakers is a daily challenge. Actually, it seems to change from quarter to quarter.
Heading into their tussle Wednesday night against the rival Celtics, Los Angeles had won eight of 12 but were trashed, 125-101, by the Clippers just prior to the All-Star break. The Lakers limped into the weekend looking lost and beaten.
That was all before the Lakers lost their longtime owner, Dr. Jerry Buss, who passed away on Monday. The big question then became: Would the Lakers be inspired to play well as a tribute to their fallen leader?
If their 113-99 win over Boston is any indication, the Lakers may have finally found their basketball center—and Dwight Howard was pretty good too.
Interesting, in that the most dominant Laker Wednesday night was the very player who has been the source of such media scrutiny this season. Dwight Howard poured in 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds.
D12 played "hungry" and with confidence, attributes that have not always been part of his arsenal.
As the Lakers finished off the Celtics, veteran tv analyst Stu Lantz took a moment to take it all in (via Time Warner Cable Sportsnet): "This was just what Dr. Buss ordered."
Seven players scored in double figures for the Lakers against Boston. And much like their signature 105-96 win at home against Oklahoma City on January 27, the Lakers played with a passion that's mostly been missing throughout the year.
For the first time, it seemed as if the Lakers' pick-and-roll was actually working. That's because Dwight Howard made it work.
What was different about the game Wednesday was that the Lakers pounced on their opponent from the opening tipoff and never let up on the gas pedal. They looked like a playoff team, and that was perhaps the biggest surprise of all. A pleasant surprise.
The question remains, however: As great as the Lakers played against the Celtics, can they do it again in their next game? And can they do it well enough to win 70 percent of their remaining 27 games and sneak into the postseason?
The Lakers on Wednesday played as if it were Game 7 of the NBA Finals, circa 2010. Jerry Buss last held a championship trophy on the floor of Staples Center in June of that year ,and so it was fitting that they took out the same Celtics of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on the night they remembered their late owner.
"The way you got to approach it is just as a tribute to him to go out and play as hard as you can and turn the emotion into something positive," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said before the game to ESPNLA.com's Dave McMenamin. "It'll be a nice tribute on a sad occasion."
With all the questions surrounding the Lakers this year, the bottom line and simple answer to team chemistry really is all about winning games. That was so apparent in Wednesday's game against Boston.
The Lakers looked like a team that was literally on the same page, both offensively and defensively. They played like a team that recognized a sense of urgency for making the playoffs.
"We looked like a team," Nash said via ESPNLA.com. "We moved bodies and moved the ball and made it tough on their defense. It gives us a little more of an identity."
Perhaps it was a desire to win on a night when the Lakers celebrated the life of a man many consider the most successful owner ever in professional sports. Jerry Buss won 10 titles as owner of the Lakers and was known for doing whatever it took to get there.
As an emotional Kobe Bryant said after the game: "It was very fitting. You look at all the trophies, parades and support this team has—that all came from one man. The impact is a global one."
The Lakers next play on Friday at home against Portland. Will the chemistry that was so evident for one night last?
That's a question no one can really answer yet. But in a season of fits and starts, Wednesday's tribute and fitting victory over the hated Celtics was a solid step in the right direction.