Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere
By Brian Kamenetzky
When only a title will do, things can get pretty tense. A little anxious. A mite touchy. It's easy to focus on what's wrong with this year's Lakers squad and gloss over what's right. Certainly I've done it in this space. Are there big questions to ask about team? Of course. Reasons to question if we'll all be back at the Coliseum this June? Sure. But sometimes you have to accentuate the positive, because you know what? It ain't all bad, people.
Not by any stretch. The Lakers are good. Very good, providing plenty of reasons to be confident in their chances to repeat, 20 of which are laid out below, free of negativity. I'm not getting bogged down in that. This is a happy list, a reason to smile on a Tuesday.
Enjoy, and add your own below:
For all the hand-wringing, the Lakers are still 52-18, better than all but one team in the league.
If defense wins championships, the Lakers are in good shape. They remain comparable to, if not better than, the top squads in the league, and are the best defensive team in the Western Conference.
In a playoff atmosphere, I would expect L.A.'s defense to get better.
Despite all the hand-wringing over the performances of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, with Kobe Bryant they make the Lakers the only team in the NBA with three players in the NBA's top 28 in Player Efficiency Rating (PER, via Hollinger's player stats).
Sure, the Bynum injury isn't exactly "Happy List" material, but raise your hand if you assumed the worst, based on his history? There's no upside to a guy getting hurt this close to the playoffs, but for the time being it appears the Lakers have dodged a bullet. (You may now go knock on wood.)
Kobe may have a bum hand, he may not be quite as dominant as he was a few years back, but he's still Kobe Bryant, and that's a very, very good thing.
So is having a "top five" of Bryant, Gasol, Bynum, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest, which I maintain is better than any such quintet in the NBA.
Past results are not an indication of future performance, but they have in fact been there and done that, which certainly can't hurt.
Bryant and Derek Fisher have been there, done that four times.
Phil Jackson, 10.
Gasol, who has been less than his super-efficient self during stretches this season, has hit 56 of his last 89 shots (65%) over seven games and has shown more bounce on both ends. He appears to be regaining his form.
Math is once again a friend of the Lakers. While the remaining schedule is far from easy, barring some sort of Nets-ian collapse, L.A. will be the top seed in the Western Conference. The Lakers likely won't catch Cleveland for the best overall record, but they didn't catch the Cavs last year, either. We know how that book ended.
Dings and dents aside (don't kid yourself, every team has them), the Lakers should be intact come playoff time. Bynum seems likely to be back, and the team is still discussing Luke Walton as if will play again this regular season.
When was the last time the Lakers didn't win a title with Josh Powell on the team?
The Lakers need bench production. Shannon Brown will have been through the playoff wringer and should be better prepared this time around. Meanwhile, it's almost inconceivable Sasha Vujacic could be less productive than he was in the Finals against Orlando (he didn't make a shot). Inconsistent as the bench as been, there are reasons for optimism.
Last season, the Lakers bumped their three-point percentage from 36.1 during the regular season to 37.7 in the playoffs. They've shot poorly all season, so even a modest uptick like that could have a big impact.