HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — As this most recently re-imagined Los Angeles Lakers squad seeks a third consecutive victory tonight with the New Orleans Hornets in town (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV), let’s review the strategic and — ahem — metamorphic changes that have led to such rare rays of sunlight poking through the storm clouds.
In a rout of the Utah Jazz last Friday and an impressive grind-out win on national TV Sunday afternoon against the West-leading Oklahoma City Thunder, the Lakers suddenly became a slow-it-down, halfcourt, utilize-the-bigs offense. The very kind of stuff critics have demanded and the offensive genius, Mike D’Antoni, deplores.
Pau Gasol has made 14 of his last 18 shots as he internalizes dissatisfaction with losing his starting job to a guy named Earl. Dwight Howard has 23 rebounds in the two wins as he wears a smiley face trying to convince everyone — especially himself — that he’s happy.
And, most unpredictable, in this Lakers mini-surge that could tie for the second-longest win streak of the season with a win tonight, Kobe Bryant has become Magic Johnson and Steve Nash has become, um, Kobe?
Kobe dished 28 assists in the two wins, six more than his total shot attempts (22), which is equal to or less than his total shot attempts in 10 of 12 previous games this month.
As for Nash, who ranks fifth all-time in assists and is some 4,300 ahead of Kobe, he has 32 points in his last two games, his second-highest two-game point total of the season. Playing mostly off the ball — and probably more like a modern-day Jason Kidd than Kobe — shooting guard Nash had just seven assists in the two wins, including a season-low two against Utah. Before this odd role reversal, Nash had fewer than seven assists in a game just once in January.
So this is how the Bizarr-o World Lakers roll now, just shake up everybody’s traditional role?
After the OKC game, Gasol gushed to a Spanish-language newspaper that the Lakers aren’t really running D’Antoni’s famed offensive system any longer, which had become quite apparent. Then Nash offered the opinion that they aren’t really running any system at all, just playing.
Bryant said he’s open to all possibilities and that he lies awake in bed at night thinking up new ways to attack this thing.
So here we are with the Lakers seeking their best win streak since winning five in a row from Dec. 14-25 before embarking on a long seven-game road trip.
The offensive genius coach has had to swallow his system. The 7-foot power forward has had to swallow his pride. Kobe’s become Magic and Nash has become a spot-up shooter.
Sure, it all makes sense now.