To say that the 2012-13 season has been tumultuous for the Los Angeles Lakers would be a huge understatement. The Lakers currently sit at 19-25 and are just hoping to make the playoffs. What started out as a seemingly easy path to the NBA Finals, what with the Oklahoma City Thunder trading away James Harden, and the San Antonio Spurs yet another year older, has turned into a desperate chase for the 8th seed in the West. But in the Lakers’ last two games, against the Thunder, and Utah Jazz, they have showed glimpses of the ability that everyone expected them to display when the season began just a few months ago.
While in Memphis to take on the Memphis Grizzlies, the Lakers held a behind closed doors team meeting. Players were encouraged to speak up and voice their thoughts on the season thus far. Not known to be shy, Kobe Bryant stood up and made his voice heard. He asked Dwight Howard if he didn’t like to play with him, and acknowledged that he can be difficult to play with as he demands so much from his teammates.
The Lakers then proceeded to get blown out by the Grizzlies, capping a three-game road trip with their third straight loss. But, since that game, it seems, like Dwight Howard said, that the Lakers have left all their baggage in Memphis. Kobe and Dwight look to be on the same page, Steve Nash is looking for more offensive opportunities and the Lakers have won two in a row. But what has been the biggest key to this modest Lakers turnaround is the new role that Kobe has stepped into.
Playing as a facilitator/scorer/closer Kobe has inspired the Lakers to play as a team for perhaps the first time all season. A blowout win against the Jazz was not all that impressive. But a gritty win, with solid effort on offense and defense, against the team with the best record in the NBA, the Thunder, could be a springboard to a playoff run.
With Kobe racking up 28 assists in two games, people have begun to wonder, “Is Kobe finally ditching his shoot it every time he has the ball approach?” If he has indeed decided to ditch his hectic offensive ways for a more well rounded offensive game, the Lakers can be the best team in the NBA. It seems that someone has finally let Kobe know that he has taken nearly 130 more shots than any other player in the NBA, and that he has teammates who can score as well.
With the way the Lakers have played these last two games it does not allow opposing teams to focus on one player on offense. Teams can no longer key their defenses to Kobe, banking on the fact that he will eventually hoist up a ridiculous shot. Now teams must respect Pau Gasol in the post, Dwight in the post and Nash on the perimeter.
The Lakers may not be fast and young like the Thunder, but they possess the pieces to beat them, even in a seven game series. Likewise, they do have the pieces at their disposal to beat a team like the Miami Heat, who consistently struggle on the boards. Saying the Lakers can be the best team in the NBA is not saying that they currently are, because they are not. But when they play a nearly flawless game, like they did Sunday, then they can beat any team in the league.
Slowing down the offense, avoiding dumb turnovers that lead to fast-break points, a strength for the Thunder and Heat, controlling the boards and avoiding any major lapses on defense are the keys for the Lakers to beat the Thunder and Heat. It is exactly what they did on Sunday, and it is what they will need to continue to do throughout the remainder of the season if they want to have a spot in the playoffs, and make their presence known while there.