LOS ANGELES — Tuesday night at Staples Center—with Dwight Howard working hard and dominating and with Kobe Bryant accounting for twice as many turnovers as points–the Lakers beat the Phoenix Suns 91-85. Howard was unstoppable with 19 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks, while at the other end of the basketball spectrum, Bryant was 1 of 8 from the floor with four points and a staggering eight giveaways. However, it was L.A.’s eighth win in the past 11 games.
Shockingly, that’s not a typo.
Despite the way they’ve played in the majority of those games, the Lakers are indeed 8-3 during a run encompassing a little more than one-eighth of the season.
You’d never know it by their demeanor, though, as they walk onto the court for games with very little emotion, and then often play like it. They let down, blow big leads and even though they’re winning, it never comes easy.
But the object of the game is to win, and L.A. is managing to pull it off despite every negative associated with the team.
“It’s great to win but it’s really nothing to be excited about,” Metta World Peace said about the victory over the Suns—the worst team in the Western Conference–yet a team the Lakers lost to just two weeks ago. “Moving forward, the only thing we should really get excited about is the possibility of winning a championship at the end of the season.”
And despite the recent successful run, winning a championship is still a long shot of epic proportions for these Lakers.
They’re currently 25-28 and remain 3 ½ games behind Houston for the eighth seed in the West. They are missing one of the best big men in the NBA with Pau Gasol recovering from a torn plantar fascia that could sideline him for the rest of the regular season. Head coach Mike D’Antoni realizes that the odds are not in favor of his team doing anything but going on vacation in April.
“Our energy just went away,” D’Antoni said, referring to a third-quarter lapse that cost them a nine-point lead—and almost cost them the game—as the Suns outscored them 24-9. “We don’t do anything easy. We’re still struggling (with) just playing. It’s not a chess match out there and we’re overthinking it. You can’t mess with game. You just have to play it.”
D’Antoni also pointed out that despite the good record lately, his team hasn’t been able to put together a string of consistent performances.
“For whatever reason, we just struggle playing the game,” he said. “(We struggle) getting the chemistry right and just taking what’s there.
“We need to play harder, we need to play better—simple stuff. But keeping the continuity going has been a struggle.”
One player who has had problems stringing together consistently excellent performances is Howard, who dominated Phoenix just two days after he was criticized for what some considered a sub-par effort in Miami.
Howard says that because of the injuries, the Lakers are still trying to find an identity, even this late in the season.
“It’s still a work in progress,” said Howard, who along with Bryant will represent the Lakers in Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game in Houston. “It’s tough because guys have been hurt and because every team plays us a different way. We never see the same thing twice. It’s something we have to continue to work on. We have to make it work.”
1–Howard needs to snap out of the funk he has been in for a while. He’s hearing too many voices and needs to stop listening to most of them. He had been wearing a headband all season long, and a collective group of geniuses started ragging him about it. So, he played Tuesday night sans the band. Like what he wears on his head has any effect on how he plays—good or bad. The greatest player ever–in my opinion—Wilt Chamberlain—wore a headband for the last five years of his career, all with the Lakers. Howard has said many times this season that Wilt is one of his favorite players. So be like Wilt, Dwight. Don’t listen to the critics. Put the headband back on Thursday night against the Clippers. Then go out and have another monster game to silence the headband haters.
2—The Lakers need to pay close attention to Earl Clark and his sore right foot. The forward out of Louisville who has been such a key for the team this season, had an MRI on Tuesday and was told it was just inflammation. But with the way Antawn Jamison has played, they should give Clark more time to rest the foot. Jamison had 19 points and 10 rebounds against the Suns, and can handle more minutes if necessary. They can’t afford to lose Clark, whose offensive and defensive versatility have truly been a revelation since Jordan Hill was lost for the season due to hip surgery.
3—D’Antoni has a chance to correct a lot of problems that he has blamed on a lack of preparation time because he didn’t have a training camp with the team. After the game with the Clippers on Thursday night, the All-Star break arrives and they don’t play again until Wednesday at home against Boston. Even with Bryant and Howard participating in the game, D’Antoni should put together a mini-camp and do as much work as he can to draw some consistency out of his team for the final 28 games of the regular season