The Los Angeles Lakers' season has been ravaged by injuries, tarnished by losing streaks and defined more by a quest for pingpong balls than postseason immortality.
But don't tell that to Jodie Meeks, who carried the Lakers to a 114-110 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday behind a career-high 42 points on 11-of-18 shooting. He sank six of his 11 threes and all 14 of his free throws.
According to ESPN, Meeks entered rarefied Purple and Gold air by dismantling a Thunder defense that entered the afternoon ranked fifth in defensive efficiency:
Jodie Meeks is the first Lakers guard other than Kobe to score 40+ in a game since Nick Van Exel on Feb. 20, 1995. #OKCvsLAL— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 9, 2014
After scoring a tidy 18 points in the first half, Meeks exploded in the third quarter and outscored the Thunder by one in the period.
Entering Sunday, Meeks was averaging 16.9 points on 50 percent shooting in his 10 appearances since the All-Star break while canning 1.7 triples per game in those contests. Following the outburst, he has knocked down at least four threes in a single game 11 times this season, one game shy of tying a career high.
Let's be honest: No one could have seen this coming when Meeks signed with the Lakers two summers ago. Back then, he was nothing more than a three-point shooting specialist who had helped play a complementary role with the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers.
Now? Meeks has evolved into a full-fledged three-and-D threat, differentiating himself from a roster full of streaky scorers and lazy defenders while staking his claim as the team's brightest spot during the franchise's most turbulent season in nearly a decade.
D'Antoni: "@Jmeeks20 has been our most consistent performer all year. He's got better in a lot of phases of the game. Just comes to work."— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) March 9, 2014
Not only is the 26-year-old providing stability on the offensive end to the tune of 15.3 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting from the field and 39.9 percent shooting from three, but he's transformed himself into a reliable defender.
The team leader in steals per game (he had four on Sunday), Meeks has consistently scrapped on both ends of the floor. Whether it's been his defense in the pick-and-roll or getting his hands into passing lanes, Meeks has never demonstrated a propensity for slacking off.
Just ask Russell Westbrook. On Sunday, the Thunder's starting point guard entered the more-shots-than-points club yet again, as Meeks limited him to 20 points on 7-of-23 shooting from the floor and 2-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc.
Westbrook on Meeks' 42: "There's nothing to talk about." Meeks on Russell's 20 pts, 8 ast, 8 turnovers: "He's a great player." #class— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) March 9, 2014
And according to Basketball-Reference, Meeks is one of only 11 players averaging more than one steal and two made three-pointers per game this season. Other members of that club include Kevin Durant (who recorded a triple-double in Sunday's loss), Paul George, James Harden, Carmelo Anthony and Klay Thompson.
Meeks' tenacious attitude and tremendous speed have proved to be a perfect match for Mike D'Antoni's uptempo system, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that he's already voiced his desire to suit up in purple and gold for the foreseeable future, according to the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina.
If nothing else, Meeks' breakout season has given fans a reprieve from constantly wallowing in misery. They can take solace in the fact that he's dedicated to the Lakers' cause, no matter how disheartening this season has been.