LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 29: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers gestures, as Bill Walker #5 of the New York Knicks looks on in the second half at Staples Center on December 29, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers defeated the Knicks 99-82. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Did you hear it or feel it? "It" being that collective sigh of relief coming from Lakerland. Those of you who didn't panic after the Kings game, you heard it. Those of you exhaling, are you feeling a little better today? Through their Andrew Bynum-less four game start, the Lakers have given us something to look forward to.
They shoulda coulda woulda beat a contending Chicago Bulls team in an opening night loss, made it close in Sacramento in the second game of a back-to-back, then absolutely stomped the Jazz in the third game of a back-to-back set. A game most figured would have the Lakers on E, especially given that the Jazz are fairly young and it was their first game. Next, they come back, and wax the Knicks a mere two days later. Are we sure these Lakers are supposed to be old and slow?
Now they sit 2-2, with their future star returning to define what this team will look like (for the moment) moving forward. The first four games were the equivalent of stretching for a refreshed team that will look to mesh fairly quickly. Mike Brown has stated that he
expects would like his team to progress fast:
Dave McMenamin, ESPN:
"I hope it doesn't take 30 games. I hope it's sooner than that," Brown said before the Lakers played the Utah Jazz on Tuesday. "I've seen improvement every time we've stepped on the floor."
The new coach isn't looking to slowly introduce the finer parts of his systems. Now, Brown can implement the detailed aspects of his style in earnest. Josh McRoberts has been nice, but he's nowhere the player of Pau's caliber at power forward, and Pau has increasingly looked to not be at center what Bynum should be. The offense will begin to take shape, and the defense could get downright scary if the intense effort the Lakers have given on that end remains with Drew's return.
After an up and down start, we have a lot to look forward to following a second straight blowout win. We've seen the silver-lining of what the Lakers could be. So long as Bynum keeps up his end of ours and his expectations.
The season starts today.
Some Stray Bullets after the Jump...
Bynum's role on this team is going to be too significant to have made any concerns developed during his absence realistic. His presence changes everything. The defense, Pau's role, the rotations', even Kobe's workings in the offense. Bynum isn't just coming back as the cherry-on-top center the Lakers couldn't win championships without major contributions from; he's coming back as the frosting on Kobe's cake.
Big Drew's call for a bigger role on offense isn't just his own. Management paved the way for Bynum to be the man. Or at least one of them. First, the Lakers hired defensive whiz Mike Brown because he could build an elite defense around Drew, but also because Brown preached an offensive strategy that focused on the post. Next, the Lakers attempted to trade for Chris Paul, the best creator in the NBA, whose best at running half-court offenses. When that
was killed by David Stern failed, they still traded Lamar, whose minutes Bynum would be taking. Get used to crunch-time Drew. Get used to second-option Drew.
Even if you feel the Lakers will trade for Dwight (as I do), the center of this team will be a--if not THE--focal point on both ends of the floor. So, the season really starts tomorrow. Discount the bad, and be encouraged by the good. The season just got a lot brighter.
- Overall, I like the way Kobe's been playing. He still gets a little ahead of himself at times, but I can live with that for the most part. He's shown a willingness to conform to Mike Brown's way of doing things on offense. Even his bad shots aren't the contested iso 20-footers Kobe would be prone to taking. They're closer or drive attempts.
His defensive effort has been most pleasing. Let's face it, as good a defender as Kobe can be, too often last year, he would just watch as the guy he was responsible for got a shot up after the ball swung around. Now? He's closing out and rotating with effort. Last night, there was a play where he stumbled in trying to close out on a potential shooter. 2010-11 Kobe would have conceded the shot. 2011-2012 Kobe hustled to catch his balance and contest the shot. No shot was taken because Kobe busted ass. Another time, he had the ball stolen while trying to split defenders with a behind-the-back dribble. Did he swing his arm around in frustration, or look for a ref to blame, all while watching the Knicks score? Nope. Kobe actually ran down court to steal the ball back from Amar'e Stoudemire 50 feet away! Kobe.
- I have a feeling Kobe will back off from his "Andrew will just have to get in line" attitude. I expect Bynum to be the 2nd option. How hard will Kobe look to feed off of Bynum instead of vice versa? Kobe was efficient last night, with an opportunity to be most efficient with another dominant big to keep defense honest on him. For the sake of himself and the team, Kobe can't afford to work hard on every shot attempt.
- Oh, and Kobe...? Please don't over do it with the crossover. You've been stripped quite a few times already.
- Kobe's 3rd quarter was fun. It's extra special seeing Kobe remind us all that he's still here. But the end of the quarter is where he got a little ahead of himself. He tried pleasing the crowd a little too much, and it led to stand-around iso offense into the 4th quarter. I wasn't even sure if the Lakers were running any set offense at all. Either iso or basic pick-and-rolls with some motion. I'm not sure what the offense is supposed to really look like.
- Same with the Knicks. What were they doing? Do they have an offense? All I saw was Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e take turns going iso. Or take turns turning the ball over. It looked like pick-up game offense. I hate to say it, but they need Baron Davis bad.
- The Knicks actually had Tyson Chandler taking initiative on offense. Funny. He should stick to catching lobs and put-backs. Personally, I think he's going to be a bust compared to his contract, having to carry Amar'e and 'Melo on defense, with no help from them. The Lakers go some really good looks inside due to lack of defensive instinct or just pure absence of anticipation.
- The Knicks should have the benefit of familiarity. Instead they still play like they were just thrown together. If this stays like this when Baron gets on the court, start the clock on Mike D'Antoni.
- Anyone else still feel still so used to what the Triangle looked like? It's ingrained in us. We instinctively knew when the Lakers were running their offense well. We could properly judge the crispness of their offense. It's going to take time for them to get cozy, and for us to know when they're really screwing up.
- Pau...what's happened to his offense? He's been playing as if he's already resigned to the fact that he'll be the tertiary option. When did he become such a hesitant ball-stopper? When did he develop Kwame Brown's hands and lack of anticipation? Dating back to last season's fizzle out, Pau has struggled on offense while at center. Did I mention Andrew is coming back to relieve Pau from dwelling in the post? If his struggles on offense linger, does he get shipped out for real?
- Pau's been fairly good on defense though.
- Ron Artest's offense is fool's gold, but I hope his "explosion" will help him find confidence in his shot. He needs to get that back, more than his crazy looking forays to the basket.
- Josh. Mc. Roberts. He's a treat. It's nice seeing someone else besides Bynum look to kill the rim when he can (hint, hint Pau...). He's not afraid to mix it up and it should infect the other players on the floor.
- Lack of hustle isn't something we'll hear about the Lakers this year.