They may not win as many games as fans have become accustomed to, but the Los Angeles Lakers are harnessing some showtime magic with the way they're playing offense these days.
The Lakers improved to 5-7 on the season with a 114-99 win over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night, and did so thanks to some spectacular highlight-reel plays.
Mike D'Antoni's teams are known for pushing the pace, and this year's edition of the Purple and Gold is no different. Entering Sunday night the Lakers ranked third in the NBA in pace, generating 99.1 possessions per 48 minutes.
If the Lakers were to sustain that pace for the remainder of the season, that mark would be the franchise's highest since the 1988-89 showtime Lakers, led by Magic Johnson and James Worthy, averaged 100.1 possessions per night, according to Basketball-Reference.
In Sunday's victory over the Pistons, it was Steve Blake who led a lethal Lakers offense in transition, racking up a season-high 16 assists on the night. Blake has now recorded 10 or more assists in each of the Lakers' past four games. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Blake had not recorded a single game with double-digit assists in the past three seasons combined.
And while Blake and Sunday's alley-oop partner Wesley Johnson may not be a conventional pairing, they're making life without Kobe Bryant manageable and highly entertaining.
Against the Pistons, the Lakers racked up 17 fast-break points, a positive sign for a team that entered the night ranked 29th overall in transition scoring, generating 0.95 points per possession on the break, according to mySynergySports (subscription required).
The win also came at a particularly good time for the Lakers, who had lost two straight entering Sunday night and had not topped 100 points in either contest.
Although things looked rather bleak early—the Lakers surrendered 56 first-half points on 62.5 percent shooting—L.A. was able to rebound in the second half thanks to a flurry of big plays and a 16-0 run that stretched over portions of the third and fourth quarters.
However, as has become the norm, the Lakers allowed several big plays because of their own weak transition defense, and none was bigger than an alley-oop off the glass from Brandon Jennings to Andre Drummond.
But all is not lost for Lakers fans who can embrace the team's frantic up-and-down style, one that has allowed opponents to score 1.15 points per possession in transition, per mySynergySports.
The Lakers may surrender their fair share of electrifying plays, but that's part of the appeal of this year's bunch. They produce just as many big plays as they allow, and fans know they won't be shortchanged in the highlight department on any given night.
On Sunday night, though, it was a dynamic Lakers frontcourt contributor who overshadowed Drummond, Josh Smith and the Pistons' talented front line.
A key cog generating positive vibes over the past week has been Jordan Hill, who posted career-highs of 24 points and 17 rebounds (five on the offensive glass) in the win.
"It was like playing against a clone of myself," Drummond said of his matchup with Hill, according to the Associated Press. "I stopped moving, and he got the offensive rebounds because he was constantly moving and grinding the whole game. He runs around and plays hard. He played a hell of a game."
While Blake has been at the controls in transition, Hill has provided the Lakers stability in the half court, where they've desperately needed a low-post banger to complement Pau Gasol's finesse around the basket.
Since entering the starting lineup on Nov. 12 against the New Orleans Pelicans, Hill has answered the call in a big way, averaging 18.75 points and 12 rebounds over his last four contests.
Hill also entered Sunday night ranked 11th in contested rebounds per game (4.3), according to SportVU's tracking data, a number that's sure to creep higher after his masterful performance against the Pistons.
Overall, Sunday night's performance was a microcosm of what Lakers fans should expect to see from their team this season: A fast pace, plenty of highlights, a porous defense and generally exciting basketball.
If the Lakers fan base can begin to accept this team for what they are—an exciting and sometimes frustrating bunch—they're in for an unexpected treat.
And guess what? Things are only going to get more interesting now that L.A. has a four-day layoff and Bryant is back at practice.
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