What are the odds?
Kiffin doesn't have track record
Lane Kiffin has won nine or more games only once during a six-year head coaching career in which he has compiled a 35-34 record. That will not change after this season when USC finishes 8-5, giving the Trojans at least five losses in three of Kiffin's four seasons as the head coach.
Last season, USC was the preseason No. 1 team and projected to be in the BCS National Championship Game, while Matt Barkley was the Heisman front-runner. Instead, USC sputtered to a 7-6 record, culminating in an embarrassing loss to 6-7 Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl, while Barkley's stock has fallen and has him out of the first round of most mock drafts. Now with Barkley, Robert Woods, T.J. McDonald, Khaled Holmes, Nickell Robey, Curtis McNeal and others leaving, I'm not sure how you can have them finishing much better. I'm going to give Kiffin the benefit of the doubt and have him and the Trojans finishing one game better mainly because they don't have to play Oregon, not because I think they will be a better team. The fact is, as long as Kiffin is the head coach, I don't see USC getting much better. I was hoping he would bring in a new offensive coordinator to take over playcalling duties from him. Instead, he let go of Kennedy Polamalu, one of the more respected assistants on the staff, and promoted Clay Helton to offensive coordinator. He also said goodbye to his dad, Monte, as the defensive coordinator and brought in Clancy Pendergast, who was the defensive coordinator at Cal the past three seasons as the Golden Bears have gone 15-22. USC will not be a terrible team next season, but as long as Kiffin is running things, it won't be much better than an 8-5 team.
They're well-positioned rest of way
By all accounts, the Denver Nuggets basically ran the Lakers off the court Monday night in a 119-108 win. They were faster, more athletic, more exciting and more energetic. They made the Lakers look old and slow.
But you know what? For all of the things the Lakers did wrong -- 15 turnovers, 17 missed free throws, 78 points in the paint, a ridiculous 33-3 differential on fast-break points -- they were within seven points late in the game and easily could've pulled it out if Dwight Howard had simply made a few more free throws.
That's how talented this Lakers team is. And that's why I think they'll ultimately sneak into the playoffs as the seventh or eighth seed.
Lost in the fallout from Monday's deflating defeat was the recognition inside the locker room that the team seems to have gotten on the same page in the past 16 games. The players have agreed on -- or at least have accepted -- how they need to play at both ends of the floor. It's just a matter of doing it now.
Mike D'Antoni has settled into an eight-man rotation, players understand their roles and know their minutes will be relatively consistent. Some of that will change when Pau Gasol comes back in another month, but for now, the stability has finally given this team a chance at developing some chemistry.
Yes, the Lakers are still two games under .500 with just 24 games to go. And yes, the teams ahead of them -- Houston and Utah -- both seem to be ascending. But the Lakers appear to have found a little something since that clear-the-air meeting in Memphis. And with the fourth-easiest remaining schedule in the NBA, they are positioned well to go on a run.