|ESPN.com: NBA||[Print without images]|
There's no need to constantly reference the Miami Heat when analyzing whether the Lakers' superstar mashup can work. The Lakers have enough of their own history to draw on. There's nothing the Heat have done that the Lakers haven't done first, including firing a coach during the season, replacing him with Pat Riley and going on to win a championship.
Either way, there's a distinct difference between the Lakers squad that fired Paul Westhead 11 games into the 1981-82 season, the Heat team that dumped Stan Van Gundy 21 games into 2005-06, and this Lakers squad. In this case, there's no talk of this team's main player loudly complaining about the coach.
In 1981, Magic Johnson told reporters that he couldn't function in Westhead's offense any longer. Seven years ago, Shaquille O'Neal let the Heat powers that be know that he didn't have confidence in Van Gundy (whom he later dubbed "The Master Of Panic.").
If you haven't noticed, Kobe Bryant has directed more harsh words at the skeptics than at his coach so far. It's because this Princeton offense thing is working just fine for the Kobester. A 45-percent shooter for his career, Bryant is making almost 60 percent of his shots through the first four games of the season. He likes the way the offense opens the floor and gets him the ball on the move. He doesn't have to work as hard to generate shots.
Dwight Howard is averaging 23 points a game (on track to be the highest average of his career) and he's still adjusting to playing basketball again after being sidelined by back surgery in March. And Howard's arrival has not taken the ball away from Pau Gasol, who's getting the same number of shots per game as last season.
The only starter who is not benefiting from the Princeton offense is Steve Nash and his injury might be a disguised blessing for the Lakers. While Nash sits for a week or so, the Lakers don't have to choose between running the Princeton offense or letting Nash sit in his comfy chair running pick-and-rolls.
Reaching back into the Lakers' archives shows a similar dilemma for the 2003-04 edition of the Lakers with Gary Payton at the point. He wasn't comfortable in the triangle offense, which denied him the ballhandling and post-up opportunities he was accustomed to throughout his career. Payton's solution was to accelerate the tempo. His motto was that if the Lakers ran, they didn't have to run the triangle. The Lakers averaged 103 points during the first month of the season. Keep in mind, that was a year in which the average team scored 93.4 points per game, the lowest since the inception of the shot clock.
But it came back to haunt the Lakers in the playoffs, when the games slowed down and halfcourt offensive execution became paramount. Because Payton failed to master the triangle, Phil Jackson had little use for him by the end of the season. He anchored Payton to the bench while Derek Fisher took his minutes.
For the current edition of the Lakers, even though offense has been the focal point, it hasn't been their biggest issue. They're top 10 in points scored, while they rank 19th in points allowed. The Lakers have worked on the offense with detriment to their defense. You never hear them talk about being a defense-oriented team, which was always Mike Brown's trademark.
What no one in Lakerland can tolerate is being a losing team. That's why it's essential that the Lakers start picking up victories. They're 1-3, and there are few easy victories awaiting, even in a home-heavy schedule in the early weeks. They've already matched or exceeded the loss total through the first 20 games of 10 champions since 1981-82. The average number of victories in the first 20 games during that span was 15. So yes, the starts matter. Teams usually show some indication of their capacity before Christmas.
The only champion since 1981-82 that did not have a winning record through its first 20 games was the 2005-06 Miami Heat. They were 10-10, then fired Van Gundy after the next game.
So not only isn't it necessary to compare the Lakers to the Heat, Mike Brown probably would prefer it if you didn't.