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Rants and Raves: Lakers are rolling
The Lakers aren’t quite as invincible as they seemed to be in decimating the Spurs on Sunday. However, heading into their showdown with Miami the defending champs are 8-0 since the All-Star break. This, immediately after dropping three straight, including an embarrassing loss in Cleveland.
L.A.’s 101-87 win in Atlanta on Tuesday demonstrated several of the differences between now and then.
East vs. WestThe Lakers may be eliminated, but the Heat are still shooting for the NBA Finals. Visit Heat or 3peat Central
ANDREW BYNUM is finally grasping the intricacies of his requisite defensive rotations. When to fully attack a ball-penetrator, when to stay at home, when to show and recover. As a result, L.A.’s interior defense is much tighter than it was. Against the Hawks, Bynum had three blocks and 16 rebounds and his intimidating presence altered four shots.
Also, although his offensive moves remain somewhat mechanical and therefore predictable, Bynum has reduced his assaults on the hoop to one- or two-dribble maneuvers. Plus he’s reading the offense more readily, making more effective off-the-ball cuts and spins, and is in position to catch lobs and turn them into dunks (three of these in Atlanta).
In other words, the young man’s greatly improved work ethic is suddenly paying dividends.
LAMAR ODOM’s chronically loose focus was tightened considerably as a result of his participation with Team USA in last summer’s world championship tournament.
DEREK FISHER remains remarkably underrated except, that is, among his teammates and his opponents. As ever, he plays excellent position defense (drawing two charges against the Hawks), makes triangularly-correct passes (three assists), and knocks down clutch shots (11 points, 2-for-2 from beyond the arc).
PAU GASOL has taken full advantage of opponents playing him soft whenever he catches the ball 15-or-so feet from the rim by burying his jumpers. He also has the most effective left hand of any big man in the NBA (Andrew Bogut is the runner-up), and he’s also the most accomplished passer among his peers (a team-high five assists).
If STEVE BLAKE is still somewhat uncomfortable on offense, his defense has taken a quantum leap — so the second unit has become more proficient.
SHANNON BROWN has cut down on the ill-advised shots he’d been wont to unleash, and he also making quicker decisions with the ball.
The return to action of MATT BARNES will mean a further bump in energy off the bench at both ends of the court.
With LeBron turning into LeBoo-Hoo, KOBE BRYANT is finally being universally recognized as the best player on the planet. Not that Kobe cares, or that his game has drastically improved — although it should be noted that he’s beginning to trust his teammates more often.
Overall, the Lakers have corrected their primary defensive failing, i.e., their control of screen/roll situations. The Hawks managed only eight points as a result of the 18 S/Rs they ran. Solely by virtue of their coordinated defensive rotations, the Lakers also induced six steals and forced another three turnovers.
As a result, the Lakers have only yielded 87 points per game during their eight-game spurt (as compared to nearly 96 ppg over the course of their previous 57 games).
Forget about L.A.’s geometric offense. The difference in their play as of late is the calculus of their defense.
For sure, Kevin Love deserves credit for his outstanding string of double-doubles. But all the hype about his setting a single-season record for consecutive double-doubles is absurd, simply because the fine-print reads “since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976.”
So everything that transpired before then simply doesn’t count?
Like Wilt Chamberlain’s averaging 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds throughout his 14-year career? Or Bill Russell’s 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds over 13 seasons?
Love’s is a phony record. It’s a lame and dishonest attempt by the NBA’s publicity machine to create cosmic significance out of something that’s merely admirable.
Good job by the Hall-of-Fame’s selection committee by waiting until the ultra-deserving Tex Winter had a stroke before deigning to nominate him for inclusion.
Note that the new statue outside of the Staples Center duplicates the design of the NBA logo in depicting Jerry West in the act of dribbling with his left hand. In truth, if West had to feed himself only with his left hand he’d have perished of starvation long ago.
Except for Carlos Boozer’s usual swoon in clutch games against elite foes, Chicago played extraordinary defense in defeating Miami on Sunday. Next time the Bulls play, look off the ball and track Joakim Noah’s movements on defense. It’s his range, length, savvy, skills and anticipation that are the keys to his team’s defensive excellence.
Denver is now 5-2 since trading Carmelo Anthony. That’s because the offense has been diversified, and a significant source of tension and uncertainty has been removed. Good job by George Karl in making the addition-by-subtraction adjustment.
When Doug Collins was named head honcho of the Sixers, I predicted doom and gloom. But he has his guys playing hard on every play and has reinvigorated Elton Brand’s offense. Collins’ equal-opportunity game plan has led to five players scoring in double figures (with Jodie Meeks also averaging 9.7), discouraging opposing defenses from tagging any one scorer.