Just What Should We Expect?

Kurt —  March 19, 2007

Two fun-to-watch wins, a team getting healthy physically and psychologically (with a few softer games ahead to help gain some momentum).

The Lakers are starting to look like the team we saw earlier in the season — even if Kobe has to drag them back into the light with 50-point games. While he rightfully gets plenty of accolades, anyone who had watch the Lakers through the Dark Ages of the last month realized just how much better this team is with Walton and Odom back in the fold — heck, even Smush Parker had nine assists (and shot 8 of 10 from the floor, making smart decisions every time he had the ball).

But what are the realistic goals for this team right now? Back last summer Mitch Kupchak hinted the goal was 50 wins and reaching the second round of the playoffs. Well, unless the Lakers win out they aren’t reaching 50. A solid 10-5 last 15 games gives them some momentum and the same win total as last season (despite far more injuries). That seems realistic.

What about winning in the first round of the playoffs? Most likely that means knocking off San Antonio (yes, it could be Phoenix, we’ll see). It’s not impossible — they’ve taken two out of three from the Spurs, although that was when the Lakers were healthy and playing better in December and January, while the Spurs were playing worse.

But there is one thing the Lakers have to start doing if they are going to win a playoff series against anyone — play better defense. They can win a game or two with the offense carrying the load (much like they did the last two games, when Kobe took over), but to win a series they have to get more stops (because San Antonio will).

For the season the Lakers are allowing 106.2 points per 100 opponent possessions (which puts them 24th in the league), and opponents are shooting 50.2% (eFG%) against them. In the last two games, those thrilling Laker wins, they allowed 122 points per 100 possessions and allowed opponents to shoot 50% (eFG%) from the floor. And those are teams without a Duncan/Parker/Ginobli lineup (or, worse yet, Nash/Stoudemire/Marion).

That’s what I want to see as the season closes out — the Lakers to get better on defense. If they do it, they stand a chance of knocking off anyone.

But, more importantly, getting the defense right is what takes this team to another level next year. And while some of that will have to come with personnel changes, some of it has to come from better play from the guys on the roster. That’s what I expect to see from here on out.