The Lakers arguably had their best week of the season so far. They went from having their worst week to their best, and they don't seem ready to slow down.
The Lakers have been stellar on offense, being first in the league in points per game, first in rebounds per game and second in assists per game. There is still a bit of a problem on the defensive side of the ball, but it has improved from 20th in the league in points allowed per game to 17th.
There were hardly any negatives this week, and it featured two perfect performances from Matt Barnes on Friday night against the Timberwolves (7-7 FG, 5-5 3P, 24 points) and Pau Gasol last night against the Warriors (10-10 FG, 28 points).
Week in Review
Wednesday @ Detroit Pistons - W 103-90 Player of the Game: Kobe Bryant - 33 points, nine rebounds, four assists
Friday @ Minnesota Timberwolves - W 112-95 Player of the Game: Matt Barnes - 24 points, seven rebounds, six assists
Sunday vs. Golden State Warriors - W 117-89 Player of the Game: Pau Gasol - 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists
What a week it was for the Lakers, so here is my Weekly Six (only five for this week):
1. Getting Early Leads
In the last week (last four games), the Lakers have outscored their opponents by the end of the first half 236-184. This was especially the case last night, where the Lakers got out to a 37-21 first quarter lead and then extended it to 69-39 by the end of the half. This approach was apparent throughout the road trip as well.
The starters have been able to control the tempo and make their opponents play at a tempo they aren't accustomed to. The starting five take a more methodical approach, getting it down in the paint, which is where they executed flawlessly.
The second unit, which includes of Matt Barnes, Shannon Brown and Steve Blake, have an up-tempo and run-and-gun approach. The youth of that bench helps them get down the floor quickly, challenging their opponents transition defense. The Warriors last night were especially effected by this, giving up 29 fast break points.
These fast breaks are a huge part in keeping the leads that the first unit has created. Each of the guys off the bench bring something different. Whether it's Shannon Brown and his beautiful outside shot, Steve Blake and his ability to make stellar passes and create shots for teammates or Matt Barnes and his activity and effort on the boards, not to mention a very nice jump shot.
All these things are essential for keeping the starters rested and off the floor.
2. Shooting Efficiency
The Lakers are fourth overall for the year in field goal percentage in the NBA with 48 percent. Well over the last four games, the Lakers are shooting 51 percent from the field, and that number would most likely be even higher if it weren't for garbage minutes—the shots that many guys are taking are very smart shots. Even rookies like Steve Blake are being very smart when taking shots, and looking around for the guy who has the best look.
This efficiency goes along with what I mentioned earlier, with Barnes and Gasol having back to back perfect games. There are four guys shooting over 50 percent from the field for the Lakers, and they are Lamar Odom (58%), Pau Gasol (56%), Shannon Brown (52%), and Matt Barnes (50%).
Efficient and smart shooting will keep teams out of games and will be a nice counter-act in case of any lackluster defense on the other end.
This efficiency goes a long way and you can see it in the Lakers scoring performances each night. They have scored at least 100 points every night except for one, which was a 99-94 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Efficient shooting will be essential with some holes in the defense.
3. Ball Movement/Passing
Finding and creating open shots for teammates is huge, and accounts for the Lakers having such great success shooting. Ball movement has been a huge part of their last four wins, out-assisting their opponents 107-76.
That is a very impressive margin, and the Lakers benefited from it. Their 25 assists per game are the second most in the league.
A big reason the assists are up quite a bit this year is Kobe Bryant. Bryant is somewhat different this year, and it is that he is starting to really look for other guys to make the plays. He is getting it down low to Gasol and Odom a lot more, and it has really helped the shooting percentage and the kind of looks the Lakers are getting.
Bryant is averaging nearly five assists per game, which is first among the Lakers.
The ball movement between Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol may be the best in the league when it comes to power forwards and centers. These two regularly look for each other down low, or outside.
Both of these guys can pass and it makes for a deadly combination down low.
4. Three Point Shooting
The three is the great equalizer in basketball, and although the Lakers may not need it all that much, they are still using it as a great way to keep teams out of games. The Lakers are the best three-point shooting team in the NBA, shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.
Everyone seems to be stroking it from three-point land. With this success from beyond the arc, look for them to be able to get and keep leads fairly easily, and combined with a deadly inside game, the Lakers could very well win 70+ games.
5. Defense Still a Bit Spotty
Although the defense improved from 20th in points allowed per game to 17th this week, they are still a bit spotty on defense. Nothing much to worry about though, and I think that they will be perfectly fine.
As long as the offense continues to perform and the defense cleans up a little bit, they will be successful.
MY PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Matt Barnes and Pau Gasol, each with perfect games.