Breaking Down the Los Angeles Lakers' Incredible Late-Season Turnaround

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 03:  Chris Duhon #21 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates after a Laker three pointer against the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center on March 3, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 99-98. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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With their 90-81 win over the Chicago Bulls, the Los Angeles Lakers won their 16th game in their past 22 and are in sole possession of the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

They're in a weird spot, especially after high expectations at the beginning of the season, but they've had a terrific turnaround in a relatively short amount of time. They still have time left to improve their playoff position should this winning continue over the next month, as the regular season ends on April 17.

Helping the Lakers' cause has been the poor play of the Utah Jazz. They went from 31-24 on Feb. 19 to 32-31 currently. If any Lakers fans are celebrating out there right now, be sure to raise a glass to those fallen in Utah.

The Houston Rockets are 3-4 in their past seven games, while the Golden State Warriors are 2-6 in the their last eight. That all bodes well for the Purple and Gold.

Let's break down how the Lakers got here, starting with the cornerstone of this team.


Kobe Bryant

Over the course of the Lakers' 22-game turnaround, Kobe is averaging a shade under 25 points per game. That is below his average on the year of 27.7.

But he's done much more than score.

He's taking more shots closer to the basket, leading to his 50 percent shooting over that stretch. He has pumped the breaks on forcing the issue from the three-point line, shooting just over three per game.

However, he has really transformed this team in other areas, averaging seven rebounds and eight assists over the last 22.

Of course, the old Kobe isn't gone when he's passing and hustling. We saw that in Los Angeles' comeback wins over the New Orleans Hornets and the Toronto Raptors. He can turn it on at any time, and it's become an incredible weapon for the Lakers.

As an elder statesman, Kobe has been able to put up some fantastic performances:

Kobe Bryant: oldest player with 40 pts, 10 assists since Larry Bird in 1992 #Elias

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 9, 2013


Howard's "Back"

As Dwight Howard continues to recover from his back issues, he's looked visibly springier, faster and looser. For most of the season, Howard looked uncomfortable. He wasn't the player we saw with the Orlando Magic.

He's still nowhere near his old self in terms of athleticism, but watching the way he chases rebounds, closes out on shooters (while still keeping tabs on his man) and challenges shots at the rim is encouraging.

Head coach Mike D'Antoni agrees:

D'Antoni on Dwight: "He's feeling better. He's been a monster down low defensively."

— chris palmer (@ESPNChrisPalmer) March 10, 2013

The statistics over the last 22 games might not show it, but his picks are harder and truer, and there's an overall sense of jubilation when things are going well.


Burgeoning Chemistry

Los Angeles has started the same five guys in 18 of its past 22 games.

There's no confusion between Howard and Pau Gasol that dotted the first half of the season, and players aren't being shuffled in and out of the lineup due to injuries.

In this very telling tweet below, the team looks to be coming together at the perfect time, courtesy of veteran power forward Antawn Jamison:

Jamison said a key to Lakers' recent success is the lack of finger pointing and eye rolling.

— janis carr (@janiscarr) March 10, 2013

Thanks to the consistency of the lineup, roles have been clearly defined.

Steve Nash has been relegated to spot-up shooting at times, but he hasn't let that affect his importance to the team. Meanwhile, guys like Earl Clark and Metta World Peace take what they earn on offense and go all-out on defense.


Bench Production

Beyond Steve Blake, Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, Los Angeles' bench is pretty thin. Chris Duhon is good for a three-pointer every now and then, and Robert Sacre can spell Howard in an emergency situation. 

However, they fit Coach D'Antoni's system. 

Blake makes smart passes, Jamison stretches the floor and Meeks hits three-pointers. D'Antoni doesn't need anything else from a bench. All three guys have been smart enough not to get into foul trouble either.

This Lakers' turnaround has been the story to follow after the All-Star break; now we're just going to see how high they can climb.


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