Here’s what was happening when the Lakers lost the season’s second game (Dec. 26) at Sacramento, this Friday night’s opponent:
- Andrew Bynum was serving the second of his 4-game suspension to start the season.
- L.A. had just blown a 6-point lead in the final minute or so against Chicago on the night before and was playing in the opening game at SAC, a city that had feared its team was lost the season before.
- Devin Ebanks started at small forward.
- Josh McRoberts started and totaled four rebounds and three assists in the first quarter.
- Metta World Peace scored 19 points off the bench, mostly by muscling his way to low post position.
- L.A. was sluggish, falling behind by 14 points entering the fourth quarter, and despite a furious 12-2 run late in the contest, the deficit was too big and L.A. was 0-2.
- And, the team had barely any offense installed after a two-week training camp with an entirely new system, and the defense was coming together on the fly, at best, without anchor Bynum.
“It was going to be challenging no matter what, having a new coach and a new system, it was going to be tough in the beginning,” explained Steve Blake after Thursday’s practice. “But now we’re getting into a little bit of a rhythm and a groove.”
Fast forward to March 1. The Lakers have won 7-of-10 games (3-3 on the road) to improve to 21-14 on the season, fourth in the West, rank third in field goal defense and have been dominant of late at home, winning their last five at Staples Center by an average of 16.6 points.
“It’s just having more time to be together as a unit, more time to watch film, more time to practice,” said Mike Brown, who is of course responsible for putting everything in at both ends of the court. “There’s a fine line of how much time you spend in the gym based on your scheduling, but the longer we’re together as a unit, the more comfortable (we’ll be).”
We asked Brown just how different his team looks today than it did on Dec. 26.
“There’s a lot that has changed,” Brown responded, noting first the sheer amount of time the team spent trying to cram everything in to a small period of time. “It’s dramatically different … every aspect of our team is better now than it was at Sacramento.”
Two things obvious from the game film are L.A.’s improved movement and communication on D, and better spacing and ball movement on offense.
“As the days go by you realize where certain guys want the ball, depending on who is trailing and running the floor and who’s in the game,” said Blake. “Then you start to understand what plays to run for those guys in certain situations, so being more comfortable and knowing the sets has (made it) better.
“A huge part of the NBA game is spacing, so even if you don’t run a play, when a guy gets the ball somewhere, everyone needs to know where to be, so that’s how you get better, as you start to understand each other as teammates and start to space better.”
Brown was careful to acknowledge that the Kings have also gotten better, and in no way does L.A. playing better basketball guarantee a result. But the bottom line is that the Lakers are steadily figuring things out, and already playing a style of basketball that’s proven to work in the playoffs.
Bynum’s Knee Feeling “Really, Really Good”
After a 13-point, 13-rebound, 3-block performance against Minnesota in which Bynum looked explosive off his right knee at both ends of the floor (highlighted by a quick spin move for a dunk that brought Kobe Bryant off the bench), he had this to say:
“My knee feels really, really good right now. The injection really helped, there’s no swelling … I’m playing pain free. That’s always a good thing.”