Watching the Titanic: On the Path to Recovery

I am not ashamed to admit that I am a Lakers fan. I have been for as long as I remember basketball. With that comes an underserved sense of pride because let’s face it, my franchise is richer, better and prettier than yours. With that also comes an intense amount of hate from everyone who isn’t a Laker fan. “Beat L.A.” is one of the most received text messages on my phone. So this is the column for me to cry about how the Lakers are not as good as I expected them to be this year, try to analyze what’s wrong and cry some more. So now, week one.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Did the nice men with defibrillators finally breathe life into Steve Nash’s artificially preserved body? I don’t know. We’re 5-1 in the last six games, including beating OKC and Utah. I should dance. But, that one loss is also courtesy of Phoenix and blowing a double digit lead in the fourth. We also almost lost to the Pistons (I’m going to repeat that once more to let it sink in, the Lakers almost lost to the Pistons) in our last game. It is a sad state of a affairs indeed.

Not all is bad, Kobe is playing his best in a while, and I am talking about his all-around game. It seems that he gave up chasing points and became a poor man’s reincarnation of Magic Johnson for a few games. But one has to wonder how long will that last? I mean, as long as it keeps working and LA wins Kobe will probably make an attempt at being a pass-first guard. A facilitator of sorts.

Unfortunately, this is also Kobe. The man with so much self-confidence that the gravitational pull around him is stronger. Every time LA loses from now on, you almost expect him to go back to the old Kobe. The ball mongering assassin. The black mamba. The five year old child who hasn’t learned to share (I love Kobe, but some of those are spot on). And when your team’s healthy record depends on the Mamba being a little less Mamba and a little more Magic… You need to hold your breath. But enough about Kobe, here is why LA has been good in the last six (good may be an exaggeration, they’ve been passable).

They stopped running the D’Antoni offense. For the most part. They still go back to it a few times and it shows because leads get thrown away. Let’s face it, the high-octane, run these people out of the gym scheme doesn’t work when half your team is from the Mesozoic era. They’re not undersized like Phoenix or NYK, they’re not fast, and their old. Any loud noise during an LA game could be arthritis kicking in. They also do not have speedy athletic PGs to sustain this brand of running (although they do have Steve Blake and his swag). This is a team with two of the best bigs in the league (when healthy), designed from the ground up to grind teams in the post and bruise their way to buckets. With the inside out game (or the Kobe-out game). And when it works it works.

Kobe learned how to pass. I don’t know how D’Antoni did it, but he taught Kobe the value of sharing, like Oz the great and powerful. Thank’s Mike. Let’s be honest, Kobe always demands the most attention on the floor, he just does. Before the last six, that pretty much meant pockets of vacuum on the court where the ball was lost once it entered. Now, Bryant commands double teams and sets up his teammates frequently.

Unfortunately he still does it with that childish reluctance, as if he was told he should be he doesn’t really want to. And it shows. I’m sure he is putting up about a 1000 extra shots each practice just to make up for the disparity.

They learned to stagger their bigs. Zen Jackson seemed to be the only man to be genius to make two bigs work. It doesn’t seem that hard, triangle and inside out. I mean just pull up some archive footage of the Lakers championship runs. Copy, paste, profit. Luckily, D’Antoni figured it out eventually. Splitting the playing time for Pau and Howard seems to work.

Before the run, Gasol was mainly an elbow shooter, now he’s getting some of that Espana swag back with Howard either out or not playing along side him. And while his confidence may be shot from coming off the bench and getting hated on by Kobe, he is still reminding us why he was elite at one point.

But. They’re still getting burned on defence. Constantly. I think between all of their PG’s, they can’t even guard Manti Teo’s girlfriend collectively. Kobe needs to shoulder a lot of perimeter defence on his own, and he’s getting old. The basketball player formally known as Ron Artest is still a feared defender as he showed all year, but he is also a step behind and too slow for some of the modern-day speedesters. I wouldn’t bet on him bothering Durant much short of constantly elbowing him in the ribs (which will happen anyways). Gasol was never a scary presence and Dwight is still a shadow if his former self. I mean, how do you let the Pistons run up on you?

Current prediction: Seed 8, make playoffs.

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