The Lakers are playing inspired basketball as of late. After winning 2 in a row and going up a game on the Utah Jazz for that sweet, sweet 8th spot in the West, the Lakers are controlling their own fates for the last 3 games of the season. Think it’s possible with Golden State and San Antonio coming up? It’s a polarizing prediction, but it definitely helps that Mike D’Antoni finally realized what Pau Gasol can do for his system, not what the system can do for Pau Gasol.
After a tough loss on the “road” in Los Angeles against the Clippers, the Lakers rallied back and defeated New Orleans 104 to 96. After that, the Lakers went into the Rose Garden to take on Portland in their last back-to-back game of the season. And by the way, they hadn’t won a single game when it was the second of a back-to-back series. When you also consider the fact that the Lakers were 4 and 18 when playing in Portland, few fans and analysts (I’m a fanalyst) actually thought the Lakers would manage to get a win. And considering the Jazz will most likely go 2 and 1 over their last 3 games (Minn, @Minn, @Memphis), the Lakers can’t afford to lose more than 1 game since Utah has the tiebreaker. So the fact the Lakers have a 1 game advantage on Utah has finally given the Lakers a hair of breathing room in the playoff race. However, the Lakers’ home-stretch won’t be easy; they have to play Golden State, San Antonio, and Houston. But it seems like Mike D’Antoni has finally realized that he needed to adjust his system to fit his players. It’s better late than never, but everyone has to be on the same page when finishing out the regular season and heading into the playoffs, or the Lakers will be bounced in the first round no matter if it’s San Antonio or OKC.
Over the past 2 games Pau Gasol has reverted back to his championship form. Just about every time he gets to the the rim he scores an easy basket, and when this is combined with Gasol’s excellent skills at passing the ball to his fellow big man on the court, Dwight Howard, it’s clear that Pau Gasol (just like in 2009 and 2010) can be the lynch pin to a great inside-out game. Now for every fan already calling out how inconsistent the Lakers have been with sticking to their “inside-out” game, how can you call foul at inconsistency when the roster makeup hasn’t even been consistent? I’m not making excuses for Mike D’Antoni or the Lakers, but when you have one of your crucial stars out for a few months of the regular season, it’s hard to blame the Lakers for not consistently working the inside-out game.
But Sam, you forgetful fool, they had Dwight Howard all season long!
Well yeah, if you want to count the first 2 months where Dwight was still working out his bad back and then the next few months where he was dealing with his shoulder, then sure, Dwight was there all season. But with Pau Gasol, you know he is going to score when he posts up and turns his back to the basket (of late), therefore most teams will put a double-team on Gasol. Which lets Pau easily pass to an open cutter, a shooter on the perimiter, or his parter-in-crime, D-How. But with Dwight Howard, you can put a single player on him and either send him to the line to make a free-throw (emphasis on the singular form there) or at least contest the shot and force him to try and make a right-handed hook shot (which I’ve seen time and time again clank at the rim). At the end of the day, Pau Gasol just has so much versatility in the low-post, now we have a legitimate reason to stick to inside-out basketball. I mean, even Dwight has been getting better at passing out of the paint to Steve Blake or Jodie Meeks for an open 3. But the one thing that makes me think that this current win-streak is the start of a consistent identity is the fact that Mike D’Antoni finally admitted he was wrong.
It was clear that Pau Gasol was out of sorts when the season started. When you have a new head coach already talk about how much Gasol isn’t a natural fit for his system, it’s tough to build confidence from that. But despite Pau’s first game back against Washington (a loss I want to forget), Pau has looked great coming off of his injury. Over the past 5 games Pau is averaging 18 points, 10 boards, and 6 dimes. And that would be all well and good, but if weren’t for the fact that Mike D’Antoni realized his system was incorrect, then those numbers wouldn’t have been that high (his season averages are 13.5 points, 8 boards, and 3.8 dimes) since his return.
Mike D’Antoni has received criticism all season long for his rotation (or lackthereof), his defense, and his offensive system that doesn’t work with his players (apparently). Now, I have said on here before that I thought moving Pau to the bench to play center was a good move, but not nearly as good as having Dwight and Pau together on the floor at the same time. I mean, Gasol passing to Howard for an easy dunk is one of the greatest things the Lakers can do right now, and no one, despite maybe OKC or Miami, can defend that. So for Mike D’Antoni to come out and say, 3 games before the playoffs, “the system was screwed up” is extremely humbling and shows a lot of humility from a head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, especially when the fans openly calling for Phil Jackson. In a season where everyone has had to adjust (and Kobe has had to ratchet up his game), for the head coach to admit even his system was messed up and he needed to adjust, is something that I think will really help come June/July when the Lakers are talking to Howard about his future as a Laker.
The Lakers need to play some of their best basketball against the top teams in the West. The Lakers are looking up at Golden State, San Antonio, and Houston. All are tough matchups, but with the heart and the grit that the Lakers are playing with combined with a head coach who is fitting the system to the players, it looks like the Lakers might pull off something resembling the Kings’ playoff success just last year.
Sam Accardo is a writer for Hefferbrew. While it’s exhausting watching every game come down to the wire, Sam has stayed strong to watch every exciting moment. He thinks the Lakers will make the playoffs and make some noise too. Will the Lakers drop their last 2 games and fail to make it into the playoffs as Utah spits in the face of Los Angeles? Only time will tell if Utah decides to take a page out of Carlos Quentin’s book. Follow @Hefferbrew on twitter and facebook for all your sports and entertainment news. 1,000,000 internet points to the person who gets the reference of the title.