Friday, November 29, 2013
'Funpredictable' Lakers on a roll
By Dave McMenamin
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Coming off a season-high 27 points, more than he scored in his previous four games combined, Wesley Johnson shared Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni's goal for the small forward's contributions every night.
"His word he always uses is be 'dynamic,' " said Johnson after L.A's 106-102 win over the Detroit Pistons on Friday.
Nick Young, right, celebrates the Lakers' victory with teammate Jordan Hill. On Friday, it was Young's defense that had the biggest impact on beating the Pistons.
How about a word to describe the Lakers as a team? Unpredictable. Fun. Funpredictable? It applies.
Johnson's offensive outburst might have seemed to come out of nowhere, but really, it fits the type of season the predictably unpredictable Lakers are having. Friday marked the sixth time in the past seven games the Lakers had a different leading scorer.
What does that say?
"It says a lot," Johnson said. "You never know what's going to happen each night. Nick [Young] was last [game], the previous night it was, I think, Jordan [Farmar]. It's like you never know. It's just us playing off one another. Whoever is hot, we keep feeding him."
And when it's not your night to be fed the ball, D'Antoni is trying to get the group to buy into feasting on the defensive end.
While Johnson, who still managed three blocks, shined more on offense than through his normal defensive-stalwart role Friday, for Young it was the complete opposite.
Coming off a season-high 26 points against Brooklyn, Young shot just 3-for-12 against Detroit but still came up with the biggest play of the game, drawing a charge on Josh Smith with 2.7 seconds left and L.A. holding a precarious two-point lead.
The Lakers are so unpredictable this season, they even surprise themselves. It was like "Freaky Friday" out there, with the role reversal featuring Johnson as the scorer and Young as the stopper.
"I know that everybody is all chimed in as a team," Johnson said. "I know that he sacrificed his body ready to take that charge, get that win. That let us know that everybody as a team is all one now."
Said Young: "That felt good to win like that. That's the stuff you only see on TV."
If you tuned in for just the fourth quarter, you might not have recognized Young, who not only came up with the charge, but had as many assists in the final quarter (two) as he had field goals.
"They were keying in on me," Young said. "I had to pass the ball a little bit. I try to do everything. I'm doing everything now."
That's a little like his team, which has now won five out of its past six games to find itself at 9-8, back above .500 for the first time since an opening-night win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
"We come up with different things to make sure we give ourselves a chance," Pau Gasol said.
That involves playing with different personnel combinations and adapting in the moment. Steve Blake had 10 assists through three quarters against Detroit and hit that winning 3-pointer in Houston earlier in the season, but he wasn't on the court in the fourth quarter because Farmar was cooking. The last time the Lakers played Detroit, Jordan Hill was the star with 24 points and 17 rebounds, but once Hill suffered a mild sprain of his left ankle in Friday's first half, it was Shawne Williams (a season-high 20 points to go with nine rebounds) who was the one giving L.A. an unexpected lift.
"I think we're having fun playing together and we're really jelling at this point," Gasol said. "Things are coming together. We're working really well."
Added Young: "We're starting to find ourselves."
And they're doing it by playing outside of their normal comfort zones. After Detroit scored 68 points in the paint through the first three quarters, who thought it would have been the spindly Williams to play nearly the entire fourth quarter in the front court and help limit the Pistons to only eight points down there, while on the other end tipping in an offensive rebound between those big bodies to help ignite the Lakers' rally?
If Johnson is suddenly scoring and Young suddenly defending and Williams suddenly protecting the paint, what does that mean?
"Then we can be really good," D'Antoni said. "I think that's with a lot of players. If they would understand that they can be important any way. ... If you take good shots and you play good basketball and you play great on the defensive end, you run the floor, you run what we try to put a system in, if you make and miss shots it doesn't matter. Now, it takes all the pressure off. I can still be productive."
The unpredictable Lakers have been fun so far, indeed. But there are a couple of other things that can be foreseen that aren't so fun to think about: When will Kobe Bryant come back and how will he fit in? What happens if he takes some time to round into form? Will the team keep its momentum? And what about Steve Nash? How are the minutes divvied up when, or if, he suits up again?