HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — When the Lakers take the measure of their season, the entire season, those ugly losses to Charlotte and Cleveland before the All-Star break will barely register, if at all.
The Lakers we all expected to see this season have been on display since the All-Star break. The 8-0 record since then helps. But it’s the way they’ve been dismantling teams that really sticks out.
Andrew Bynum, the same one that folks were ready to ship out of town for Carmelo Anthony a couple of weeks ago, is playing inspired basketball these days. The Lakers are doing the same, no doubt a result of the beating they took from all angles — including the fans, competitors and former Lakers legends like Magic Johnson and Jerry West.
Those critics have retreated as the Lakers have emerged since All-Star Weekend, reestablishing themselves as the matchup nightmare that they’ve been for almost every team in the league during their last two title runs. Bynum is a dominant force rebounding the basketball lately, with 16-plus in three straight games.
If Bynum’s healthy March — 10.8 points, 14.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks — is any indication of what’s to come in the postseason, teams hoping the Lakers were finally vulnerable might have to do some recalculating. Not only will Bynum, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest and Lamar Odom make it nearly impossible to operate in the paint (as the Hawks found out last night), Kobe Bryant seems to have playoff focus locked in already as well.
The most refreshing thing about the way the Lakers have responded to their pre-All-Star Weekend case of the hiccups is the fact that they not only acknowledge their own missteps, but they understand them as well as what lies ahead, as T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times details:
“Our cockiness got in the way early in the season,” said Lamar Odom. “Now we go into every game knowing if we do the right things as a team, we’re going to win.”
Pau Gasol said the team is better because of “concentration,” while Kobe Bryant attributed it to defense, homework and following the game plan.
Now I suppose one could criticize Andrew Bynum for a drop off in his play. He had only 16 rebounds against Atlanta after having 17 against the Spurs and 17 the game before that.
“I had another one, but Kobe and I were going for it and Pau ended up getting credit,” Bynum said with a laugh. Bynum displaying emotion is another positive change.
Next up, the Cry Babies, and as big as the game with Dallas will be Saturday night, I just hope the Lakers don’t get caught looking past Miami.
That’s how far the Heat has fallen.
“It’s a perfect set-up for them to get back on track,” Bryant said. “They have no option but to fight. This is going to be a big challenge for us. They’re looking at this game as the game that’s going to turn things around for them.”
The last time the Lakers and Heat hooked up it was the Lakers that stood in our crosshairs. We knew they were a championship team but for whatever reason they weren’t playing like one on a consistent basis.
The roles will be reversed Thursday night in Miami. The Heat are suddenly searching for the right fix, the right chemistry. And the Lakers, meanwhile, are cranked up and playing like the juggernaut most of us assumed they would be.
Now comes word that Heat forward Chris Bosh wants more touches in the post and wants to establish himself in the paint. Clearly he said that without giving thought to who was coming to town this week.
Bynum, Gasol, Odom and the new-look Lakers are surely prepared to answer that challenge.