From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: The Los Angeles Lakers are, without a doubt, the hottest team in the NBA. With 15 wins in 16 games since the All-Star Break, against the toughest portion of their schedule no less, the Lakers seem to have confirmed suspicions that their early season struggles were a bit of a mirage. That veteran leadership and championship pedigree didn’t just disappear. The method to their hotness has been a vastly improved defense; the Lakers were giving up 105.7 points per 100 possessions before All-Star Weekend, and have allowed just 98.2 points per 100 after. When the terms championship pedigree, veteran leadership and vastly improved defense are combined to form a team that seems to be peaking at just the right time, there is but one inevitable conclusion. Obviously, the Lakers have flipped the switch. They are trying now, focused, locked in. It’s a nice, easy answer that explains exactly how the Lakers can go from looking like a decaying empire to looking like a dominant juggernaut. But the easy answer is the lazy answer.
From Dexter Fishmore, SBNation: Through most of the 2009-10 NBA season, a schism divided Laker fans into opposing camps. On one side were those who endorsed management’s offseason decision to part ways with Trevor Ariza, a hero of the 2009 championship push, and sign Ron Artest to take over the small-forward position. On the other were those who thought Ron too old, flakey and shot-happy and who regarded Ariza as a better fit. This debate came to an end with a minute left in Game Seven of the NBA Finals last June. That’s when Artest hit the biggest shot of his career, a three-ball that extended the Lakers’ lead over the Celtics to six points and propelled the champs to their second straight title. It’s not fair to Ron, Trevor or the front office that a move be judged based on whether a single shot goes down, but when the Lakers and Celtics play a Game Seven, rationality hits the open road. Fair or not, Ron’s clutch basket forever validated the Lakers’ decision to sign him.
From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Leave it to Tex Winter, who while on the Lakers’ staff was one of Andrew Bynum’s harshest critics, to have the explanation for why Bynum has turned his career and this entire Lakers season around. Winter espoused a theory that has always stuck with Phil Jackson’s longtime mental-health consultant, George Mumford, during their years together building up all those Bulls’ and Lakers’ brains to win all those NBA championships. According to “The Readiness Principle,” as Mumford calls Winter’s idea: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. The patient wisdom in that statement did not keep the passionate Winter from ranting and raving about what young Bynum wouldn’t learn early in his Lakers career, but ask either Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, and they’ll tell you how much they appreciated Winter’s ranting and raving in a world of gushing and groveling around them.
From Mark Medina, LA Times: The Lakers would rather avoid engaging in this exercise, knowing that winning games will quell any uncertainty about their standing in the Western Conference. But with the Lakers (53-20) trailing the San Antonio Spurs (57-17) by 3 1/2 games for first place in the conference and holding a one-game lead over the Dallas Mavericks (52-21) for second place with nine games remaining, it sure is tempting to see what needs to happen for everything to fall into place. That’s why the intrigue surrounding Thursday’s game against Dallas remains pretty obvious. Not only would a win give the Lakers a needed cushion against the Mavericks, it could close the gap against the Spurs if San Antonio can’t end a four-game losing streak Thursday against Boston. “Whatever is going to happen is going to happen,” Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. “The thing we have to keep in mind is continue to play well and continue to win. If that means we catch them and pass them, great. If it doesn’t, we move on.”
From Mark Medina, LA Times: The question left some players squirming, politely declining to answer no matter if I quoted them publicly or protected their thoughts in anonymity. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson immediately expressed his disinterest in the topic saying, “We’ve talked about this before and I’ve said no. I’m not going to talk about that.” And then some players immediately shifted from cliches to honest assessments when I told them their names wouldn’t be attached to the answer. We’re not really dealing with state secrets here, but it may as well be in the world of sports. I simply wondered which potential first-round opponent would the Lakers consider most dangerous. Of course, some refused to participate, mentioning how the they’re more worried about how the rest of the regular season shapes up than worrying about who they face in the first round of the playoffs. But Laker fans surely do.
From Sean Sweeney, DIME Magazine: We’ve heard it before from Kobe Bryant: Shannon Brown does things that I could never do. He repeated it again last night after Brown decided to nearly jump through the backboard, switching hands in mid-air effortlessly. We just wish Aaron Gray would’ve jumped. Also, catch Kobe’s reaction after the jump.