Maybe it’s just me, but I am more optimistic as a Laker fan after the two wins this weekend than I have been all season. Two wins, on back-to-back nights, in contrasting style games, against over .500 teams makes me believe this Laker squad may be beginning to really find itself.
There were so many things in Sunday’s win against the Magic to be optimistic about. The Lakers fought back from an early deficit. They did a good job of slowing down the a Magic team that likes to run — the Magic had only 90 possessions in the game, well below their season average of 96 (and each quarter the Magic had fewer possessions than the one before). The Lakers also played good defense and got key stops in the fourth quarter — the Magic shot 48.8% for the game, but they shot just 33.3% in the fourth quarter. (As a side note, the Lakers also played good defense against the Clippers, holding them to 38.8% shooting for the night.) Plus, there was the much-needed production off the bench — not just Jumaine Jones (the antidote to an off Caron Butler that night) but also Tierre Brown’s 10 points and eight assists, and some quality minutes from Luke Walton, doing the things that don’t show up in the box score.
I’ve still got some frustrations. For example, and I know this was talked about plenty on the broadcast (and I try in this blog to bring a fresh perspective) but I can’t just let this go: How does Jumaine Jones not get more time and more shots in the second half? This guy has one of the best quarters in Laker history — he’s got the hot hand — so he doesn’t enter the game until 3:40 left in the third, and doesn’t get a clean look at a shot until 2:00 left in the fourth quarter? Rudy T. has got to get him in sooner, then they need to run plays to get him the shot. Yes, Orlando started paying attention to him more, but they did that some in the second quarter and the Lakers moved him more to the power forward position and ran him plays to get him looks from near the top of the key. In the second half there was none of that.
(By the way, did you know that if you look at 82games.com’s Roland Ratings — a basic +/- system that is good at telling you how valuable a player is to a team — Jones is second on the Lakers behind Kobe. His spark off the bench has been key this season. He has made the Payton trade worth it. Well, that and not having to deal with Payton’s attitude.)
But while there are problems, things seem to be fitting together better and better for this Laker team. Lamar Odom continues to work hard and — in spurts — seems to be getting a better feel on offense. Chris Mihm is playing so well inside Vlade is having a hard time getting minutes. This team has depth, it just needs to show up consistently.
Things are not perfect, but with each game these Lakers seem to be evolving into a good team. And that has me feeling positive. Lets see how they do in a big test this week — at Seattle and at Sacramento.
A couple of other quick thoughts:
* I mentioned Roland Rating before, well the L.A. Times used it this week in a note on the Lakers. Good to see 82games.com getting the notice it so richly deserves.
* I have to think on thing that would keep David Stern up at night was a smart, savvy owner who started tracking NBA referee performance. Mark Cuban is doing that.
* If you want to talk about the Lakers version of “Desperate Housewives” you can do so in the comment thread. I would have to care to have something to say. I’m done with the soap opera.