Updated: November 19, 2012, 12:16 PM ET

1. Lakers Embrace Fun Spirit Of New Regime

By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- It turns out the prescription for the Los Angeles Lakers wasn't in the X's and O's, it's in the laughs and smiles. If you never even looked at the Staples Center scoreboard Sunday night you could still see all the evidence you need of the impact of Mike D'Antoni's offense -- even if D'Antoni himself wasn't on the sidelines to direct it.

He still hasn't sufficiently recovered enough from his knee replacement surgery to withstand the rigors of coaching an NBA game, so Bernie Bickerstaff handled those duties for the fifth time since Mike Brown was fired.

Meanwhile, there was Metta World Peace, raising his arms Joe Montana-style to celebrate his full-court pass that led to a layup. There was Steve Nash, in a suit, seated behind the bench, doing the Gangnam Style dance. Pau Gasol politely applauded the announcement that he had just scored his 15,000th career point. Even Kobe Bryant stood still for a few moments after he tossed in a jumper and drew the foul, soaking it all in.

As someone well versed in D'Antoni's offense predicted before the game, "They're going to have so much fun, it's going to take away any doubt."

For those who still didn't believe this offense could work with this roster, the scoreboard provided all the evidence. The Lakers scored 68 points in the first half and 119 for the game to cruise past the Houston Rockets. All five starters had double-digit points. The Lakers shot 74 percent in the first quarter, 54 percent overall.

I spent an inordinate amount of my weekend asking players and coaches who had worked in D'Antoni's system how the Los Angeles Lakers would look under their new coach, and somehow everything they said came to fruition.

"The good twist they have is they have someone in Kobe where it's something that D'Antoni has never had."

Nash's highest scoring average during his two MVP seasons in Phoenix was 18.8 points. Kobe can get 19 in a half when he's going. Sunday, he combined a bit of Nash's playmaking with his own nose for the basket and produced the 18th triple-double of his career: 22 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds.

"We have a play called 2 Down Bump, where Kobe will get the ball on the block, coming over, Dwight can set a screen … there's so many dimensions. I think it's going to be more free-flowing."

It sounds contradictory, but when Kobe dribbles into Dwight Howard's vicinity it actually creates more space, because defenders get trapped in no-man's land, trying to brace for multiple threats.

"When I'm coming to the basket and I'm in the teeth of the defense, they have to make a choice," Bryant said. "Either they're going to give me a shot or they're going to give up the roll or they're going to have to give up the big rolling up, or they're going to have to give up the opposite corner.

"It's not like Dwight [Howard] has to worry about getting the ball and scoring, because if you add more possessions he'll get more opportunities."

Howard had a season-high 18 field goal attempts. He made 11 of them to help him to 28 points (along with 13 rebounds). He made a couple of hook shots, but most of his buckets were layups and dunks, including one jam on the fast break.

At least once a game, Bryant would throw him a pass and Howard will indicate he'd rather have the ball lobbed up to the rim. "We're just learning each other's game," Howard said. "It's going to take some time but we're doing the best we can."

Howard also drew the usual amount of desperation fouls when he got the ball under the basket, and that brings up an important difference between this offense with the Suns and these Lakers. When the offense was at its free-flowing best in Phoenix the Suns also led the league in free throw percentage, shooting better than 80 percent. Amar'e Stoudemire was the worst of their regulars, and he still hit 73 percent in his lowest free throw shooting season in that offense.

The Lakers are 28th in the NBA free throws, shooting 69 percent, primarily because Howard has made only half of his foul shots. In an offense that is predicated on being more efficient in a pace that will provide opportunities for both sides, this could definitely hurt them down the road.

"You don't have to have great 3-point shooters, you just have to have guys who are capable of making an open jump shot. I see all the guys out there and I don't know who's not capable of making an open jump shot. I know Pau is."

On the Lakers' very first possession, Kobe dropped a pass to Gasol for a top-of-the-key jump shot that went in. That's the shot that will be there for him frequently in this offense. He made it three times in six attempts Sunday night.

"I think I make things a little easier for the pick-and-roll, for the guy rolling," Gasol said. "And then, if the ball gets to me I can knock that shot down pretty consistently. And then I can make good decisions with the ball. So even though I'm not stretching myself all the way out to the 3-point line, I'm still being pretty effective and making it work."

Or you could say the offense is making him work better. A 52 percent shooter for his career, he was off to a 42 percent start to this season. Against Houston he made 7 of his 13 shots for 17 points.

"Antawn Jamison could be the guy."

Jamison is off to a disappointing start with the Lakers, averaging only 3.9 points per game. But he made two of his five 3-pointers Sunday and scored a season-high eight points.

For a change, the bench held its own and didn't undo everything the starters had accomplished.

Which brings to mind one more observation about this offense I heard this weekend.

"You're going to get wide-open looks. I don't care how bad a 3-point shooter you are, the more open looks you get, your percentage will go up."

Shots going in builds confidence. Confidence brings out the fun. Scoring is fun.

Defending is a chore, and while the unleashed Lakers have been romping on offense, they also have allowed at least 100 points in each of the past two games.

"We still have a long way to go," Jamison said. "Defensively, we can't allow that to happen. Right now we're just beating guys on our talents. But we're in a situation where we're competing, we're running up and down the court. The most important thing is, you see smiles at the end of that bench when there's zeroes on the clock."


Dimes past: Nov. 1 | 2-3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9-10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16-17

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