Well, what do you know? The Lakers have won five of their last six games and find themselves at 9-8 as November comes to an end. All of this without Kobe Bryant, who signed a two-year extension this week and will likely remain a Laker for life.
That being said, the Lakers still have plenty to work on – especially in the paint defensively, where they had two major letdowns this week.
First, they let Nene score 30 points in their lone loss of the week against the Wizards. Then, they allowed 76 points in the paint to the Pistons in what eventually turned out to be a win. In fact, the Pistons didn’t score a single basket outside of the paint until the third quarter.
The Lakers are just too easy to penetrate against. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First of all, they take a lot of long distance shots. They are second in terms of shots taken from beyond 24 feet and 10th in terms of shots from 16-24 feet. While they make a lot of them, they miss plenty, too. The misses usually result in long rebounds which lead to transition points from the paint.
Secondly, they’re pretty average in terms of defending the rim. Pau Gasol allows a 49.3 percent field goal percentage at the rim. It’s not awful (DeAndre Jordan allows a 61.9 percent field goal percentage at the rim), but it’s nowhere near good either (Roy Hibbert allows a 36.5 percent FGP at the rim).
This is interesting to keep in mind because both of those atrocious performances in the paint have come with Chris Kaman out of the lineup. He missed a few games with a back injury but he’s been cleared to play over the last two games. However, he has yet to see the floor. Why would Kaman help? Because in terms of players who see at least five field goal attempts at the rim per game, he has the THIRD BEST opponent field goal percentage at the rim (37.7 percent). He comes in right after Roy Hibbert and Brook Lopez on that list.
That being said, all of this is nitpicking. The Lakers are playing well and they’re playing hard. After all, the reasonable goal for Laker fans is for the team to play .500 ball until Kobe comes back. They’re doing better than that and let’s not forget – they’re doing it without Nash, too.
Pau Gasol continues to play well offensively as we highlighted last week. Through the last six games, he’s averaging vintage Pau numbers – 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
Nick Young has proven to be effective over the last two weeks. Not only is he scoring, but he’s playing well on both sides of the ball as evidenced by his plus-minus. He’s recorded a “plus” over eight of the last nine games. Over the last six games, he’s a plus-62.
After a sluggish start to the season, Shawne Williams is also beginning to play better and as a result he’s earning more minutes. He’s a plus-43 over the last six and after not being able to make more than three field goals in any given game this season, he exploded for 20 points against Detroit. In that game, he hit six threes.
Finally, there’s Jordan Farmar once again. I can’t stop talking about this guy. He averages fewer minutes than Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill, and Wesley Johnson but he averages more points than all of those guys. Give this man some playing time, please. Farmar is a plus-67 in the last six games. He’s only played 20 minutes per game in that span, but he’s averaging 13.2 points and 5.0 assists per game. Let’s not forget how efficient he’s been either – he’s made 57.4 percent of his shots and he’s a guard. Farmar is also apart of the top five most efficient (in terms of plus-minus) Laker lineup combinations. Don’t think he has a factor in that?
The Lakers will carry their momentum to a huge game against the surprising Portland Trail Blazers Sunday night at Staples before getting four consecutive days off. It’s a light week for the Lakers, who will also play on Friday night at Sacramento – a team they defeated earlier this week.
The Portland game looks tough on paper, but the Lakers have done well against contenders this season evidenced by their wins against Houston and the Clippers. They also played the Spurs tough at home and barely lost to the Grizzlies. It’ll be a tough test and it’ll show us whether the Lakers have actually improved, or just dominated a bunch of cupcake opponents.