- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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If there was one standout from the first half of the Lakers' season when the team squeezed in 34 games into just 60 days, it'd have to be Metta World Peace's wardrobe.
His jeans are crisp, his shoes are designer, his shirts are fresh, his sports coats are classy and his ties match the lot when he decides to knot one up.
He's even been wearing a paperboy hat from time to time to complete the look and none other than Kobe Bryant cribbed World Peace's style by rocking a similar hat this week.
His fashion upgrade has been a revelation. Back when he still went by Ron Artest, I remember an East Coast road trip where he wore the exact same drab button down shirt after games in three of the eight cities on the tour.
What does this have to do with the Lakers hitting the All-Star break at 20-14, giving them the fifth best record in the West and twice as many losses as the league-leading Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder?
It illustrates how there have been unexpected surprises for the better this season.
There's plenty to harp on about this Lakers team that seems to be trying to desperately claw its way back up the hill as it slips from championship relevancy, but it's not all bad despite what Andrew Bynum might say. Bynum was asked what to take away from the first half of the season after the Lakers' 100-85 loss to the Thunder on Thursday.
"What's our record, 20-12?" Bynum asked. When he was told it was actually two losses worse than that at 20-14 he said, "Well, we played like [expletive] and we got beat," and walked out of the locker room.
Not every player had such a negative view of where things stand as the first half ends and the second is set to begin.
"We can continue to make everyone better on our team," said Derek Fisher. "I think we have done a decent job at times. But right now, essentially Andrew, Kobe and Pau [Gasol] are having to score 70-plus points [for us to win] and then everybody is kind of pitching in here and there. I think if we can improve on our execution, ball movement and player movement, where we can actually utilize the full capabilities of all the guys on our team and put teams in a position where they have to defend everybody, I think we can give ourselves a better chance. We're asking those three guys to do too much."
It really depends on what prism you look at the team through. It probably should be considered a good thing that Bryant is healthy enough to lead the league in scoring in his 16th season with a 28.4 points per game average. On the flip side, you could say that he's being relied upon too much and part of the reason that he's scoring so much is that he's playing 38.2 minutes per game, which is the fourth most in the league this season and a heavy workload for a 33-year old to withstand in a condensed season.
Bryant's biggest area of concern was the team's offense other than himself. The Lakers rank 22nd in the league in scoring with a 93.15 points per game average. "We got to work too hard to get points," Bryant said. "I'm sure the coaches will talk about it over All-Star break. We got to make our jobs a little easier."
Of course, it's not just the coaches' responsibility. The Lakers rank 29th in the league at the halfway mark with just 6.0 steals per game as a team. You think a few more swipes per game could lead to a few more easy scoring opportunities in transition?
There are other silver linings, though.
The Lakers' offense might be struggling in terms of points, but their 44.9 team shooting percentage ranks 12th in the league. That means there is a decent level of execution being carried out, including working the ball through Bynum who is fourth in the league with a 55.4 shooting percentage that's helped him to his career high 16.3 points per game average.
The fact that the Lakers are only shooting 30.4 percent as a team on 3-pointers, 27th in the league, is disheartening, but they are only allowing opponents to shoot about the same, 32.5 percent, which is the fifth best 3-point defense in the league.
Defense has been what the Lakers have been able to "hang their hardhats on," as coach Mike Brown likes to say. At the halfway point, they rank sixth in points allowed at 91.38 and fourth in opponents' field goal percentage at 41.9 percent.
A big part of that is their inside presence. Even though the Lakers have had a couple games where they've been hurt on the offensive glass this year, overall, they've been a great rebounding team, ranking No. 1 in boards per game with 45.68 and No. 2 in rebounding differential at plus 4.03 per game. Bynum ranks third in rebounds per game (12.8) and Gasol ranks seventh (10.7).
Of course, there are clear disappointments. The Lakers' 6-12 road record just won't cut it. The fact that two out of their three offseason free agent signees (Josh McRoberts and Jason Kapono) regularly receive DNPs is not a good thing. There's no way to frame their bench scoring (dead last in the league with a 21.5 points per game average) in a positive light.
But there are also undeniable bright spots. Their defense is solid as ever. Their home record (14-2) is third best in the West. Bryant's having a resurgent season. Gasol (third) and Bynum (fifth) are both among the league leaders in double-doubles, giving the Lakers a consistent two-man tandem down low game after game. Bynum was named an All-Star for the first time of his seven-year career and, knock on wood (another thing Brown likes to say), has been healthy. Rookie Andrew Goudelock has turned out to be a second-round sleeper. They enter the All-Star break having won five out of seven games and have seem to come together after Bryant spoke out publicly in support of Gasol who had been twisting in the trade winds.
"I think that we have become better, but obviously it's not going to get any easier in the second half of the season," Gasol said. "We just have to be prepared mentally and physically to face what's coming."
When the Lakers really take a good look in the mirror, they should like what they've seen so far. Kind of like World Peace's wardrobe.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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