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Home Improvement: Further Thoughts On Lakers-Blazers

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For this version of the Los Angeles Lakers, the run might be just about over. By that I don't mean to suggest the Lakers don't have a shot at a deep playoff run this season. They do. But when the Staples crowd gets another chance to watch the Lake Show in person, the team they see might be different - perhaps radically so, maybe just around the edges - than the one they watched on Monday night. If this was a swan song, it was a pretty lovely tune.

For one night at least, we got to see what Mitch Kupchak envisioned when he put this roster together. The blitzkrieg started with Andrew Bynum, as it always should. He had a direct hand in the Lakers' first 10 points. After three straight baskets to give the Lakers a 6 to 3 lead they would never relinquish, Drew's offensive rebounding led to consecutive second-chance hoops by Pau Gasol. Bynum's physical dimensions and hunger for the ball were put to excellent effect, and it doesn't even bother me that he only took seven shots (really nine, if you include free-throw possessions). In this instance his low shot total was less about guys not looking for him and more just taking advantage of the holes he opened in the Portland D. In large part because Drew was so assertive early on, the Lakers enjoyed clean passing lanes and open looks from beyond the arc the rest of the night. The big man got to feed early, so everyone else got their fill later on. That's how it's supposed to work.

No one did more to make it work than Steve Blake. Steve's career path as a Laker continues to oscillate wildly. There are times when he looks like hardly an improvement over Derek Fisher, and then there are nights like this, when he's pushing the break and punishing teams who leave him unchecked from outside. If Blake played at, say, 70 percent of this level on a consistent basis, he'd be the starting point guard and Kupchak would have one fewer hole to fill. But he doesn't, which is why you're going to hear a lot about Ramon Sessions over All-Star Weekend.

Even the small-forward position wasn't a toxic hole. Metta World Peace only took a couple terrible shots I can remember, and he made enough free throws to make Nate McMillan's endgame fouling strategy look silly. Matt Barnes didn't shoot well but assumed the roles that are his highest and best uses: rebounding, defense and vectoring toward the rim on fast breaks. Word is Michael Beasley might arrive to shake up the small-forward rotation. If that happens, I'm hopeful he'll get MWP's minutes instead of Matt's.

So yeah, the Lakers look like a different animal when they're making threes and getting something, anything, out of their point guards and wings. You know what else makes a world of difference? Turnovers. By the other team. This, I think, is the most underdiscussed of the Lakers' problems this season. They're awful at forcing turnovers - worst in the league and not all that close to 29th. On Monday, though, the Blazers coughed it up on 15.7 percent of their plays, a mark exceeded by a Laker opponent only twice this year and not since January 22. The TO's prevented the Portland attack from finding its rhythm until too late and led to way more transition opportunities than we're accustomed to seeing.

But here's the grain of salt we need to sprinkle on the foregoing: the Blazers did not give a shit in this one. I don't know what's up with this team. They looked great at the beginning of the season but appear to be crumbling somewhat. As indifferently as the Lakers approached their game in Phoenix, that's how Portland went about their business on Monday night. From the outset they were sloppy as hell. Point guard Ray Felton was extravagantly bad and got benched in the second half. Their hot three-point shooting in the third quarter amounted to a fake comeback, as they never brought the defensive intensity they would've needed to make this a real contest. You should never overreact to any one game, but the Blazers' mail-in effort is why Mitch shouldn't overreact to this game specifically.

Assuming Mitch is even in charge at this point.










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Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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