Not long after the Lakers beat the Portland Trail Blazers 103-96 on Friday, assisting on 33 of their 40 baskets and topping the century mark for the third straight game, head coach Mike Brown made a statement in jest that would have seemed ridiculous just weeks ago.
"Maybe now everybody might think I’m an offensive coach, I don’t know," Brown said with a wide smile, poking fun at his reputation for having a defense-oriented mind.
It was a break-through performance for the Lakers, who had spent most of the season looking more "Slowtime" than "Showtime." With the freshly acquired Ramon Sessions making his first start at point guard (and putting up 20 points and 11 assists in the process), the L.A. offense that Brown envisioned and pitched to general manager Mitch Kupchak, executive vice president Jim Buss and owner Dr. Jerry Buss to get the job was finally coming into fruition.
With Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum healthy and confident now that the trade deadline was behind them and they were still wearing purple and gold, Brown had his twin towers in place to operate the sets he learned from his days coaching Tim Duncan and David Robinson in San Antonio. With Sessions, he finally had a true pick-and-roll point guard to engage Brown's strong corner offense and put pressure on the defense from the second L.A. crossed halfcourt. With Kobe Bryant free to play off the ball more now that Sessions was in the fold, he had the game's greatest scorer freed up from ball-handling duties and available to roam to open spaces and catch the ball with a half step of separation between him and the opposing defenders.
It was a tipping-point type of performance. All five Lakers starters scored in double digits. The team assisted on 82.5 percent of its buckets, well above its season average of 59.8 percent. It was the eighth time the Lakers scored 100 points or more in the month of March after only doing so six times in all of December, January and February.
"Offensively we’re executing extremely well," said Bryant who went just 5-for-17 from the field but didn't seem to bog down the Lakers' flow with his misses. "We’re running things with more continuity to them."
Brown said the improvement came down to three things: ball movement, proper spacing and attacking the clock. With the speedy Sessions, L.A. was able to start its offense within the first four or five seconds of the shot clock, giving the team 20 seconds or so to explore second, third and even fourth options on any given offensive possession, thus keeping the defense off balance.
"For us, in the past, we were a post-up team so you basically had to address Pau and Andrew’s post-ups and then Kobe’s post-ups and his isos," Brown explained after Saturday's practice. "So, the game plan against us was easy and we weren’t really capable of getting a ton of easy baskets because we didn’t have the quickness and the ability that Ramon brings to the table. Now, there’s a lot of things that they got to address before or just as much as you talk about Andrew’s post-ups, you got to talk about Ramon Sessions’ middle pick-and-roll, you got to talk about Sessions’ side pick-and-roll, you got to talk about Sessions in transition, you got to talk about Sessions’ and Kobe’s 1-2 pick-and-roll or 2-1 pick-and-roll. Oh, you got to talk about Kobe’s isos. Oh no, no, don’t forget about Pau’s ability to pick-and-pop or Pau’s ability to post."
Sessions' arrival has coincided with a willingness to share the ball all around. Bynum got only five shots in Dallas on Wednesday, but he made the right reads out of the double- and triple-teams the Mavericks were throwing at him by getting rid of the ball and getting teammates open looks.
"We shared the ball," Bynum said after the Portland game. "That’s great. If we’re able to do that and move the ball, we’re virtually unguardable, especially because we have three guys that command the double team. If we just get it out quick and move it around the horn, we got guys that can knock down shots."
As much as the offensive resurgence for the Lakers has been impressive the Lakers made baskets are always more fun to talk about than the missed baskets they cause their opponents, Brown can rest easy knowing that his defensive influence is still very much on the Lakers' minds.
"Offensively, we’re doing well," said Gasol when asked what's prompted the recent uptick in scoring. "We’re executing. We got guys who can put the ball in the hole."
Then, unprompted, Gasol switched from one end of the floor to the other in the middle of his answer.
"We just got to make sure we keep our defense consistent and solid, so we don’t allow teams to get over 100 points and have a chance to win," Gasol continued. "As long as we do that, offensively I think we’re going to find ways to get things done."
It was an answer that would surely make Brown smile even wider than he did when he made the crack about being an offensive coach.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.