Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Have the Lakers found the answer? What will convince you?
Steve Aschburner: Oh sure. The answer was right in front of everyone’s nose, too — Kobe Bryant the playmaker setting up Steve Nash the shooter. Can this new normal possibly continue? Can Bryant radically transform himself as a player at age 34 — and be happy in the role? Can he average 13 assists a game the rest of the way, while Nash totals 12 every three games and still justifies his price tag and defense? Winning cures all, but I’m staying skeptical until they wrap up this seven-game road stretch they’re facing. If they take five of ‘em, then I’m impressed.
Fran Blinebury: The temptation is to say yes, because it’s what we’ve expected of the Lakers all along. But can Kobe Bryant keep averaging a triple-double the rest of the way? Can Dwight Howard keep his childish emotions in check and continue to play like the foundational center they need? The answers will likely come very soon. The calendar is working heavily against the Lakers now and anything less than a 5-2 record on the seven-game road trip that starts tonight in Phoenix will mean time is running out.
Jeff Caplan: I don’t know if the Lakers have found the answer, but they have found something and it’s quite remarkable. On a dime, Kobe Bryant has changed who he is. He’s a master facilitator now with 39 assists in his last three games. He’s working defenses and finding the open man, who then often finds another open man for an open shot. Whatever is going on here, at least it’s something positive and you can see it in the Lakers’ play. Kobe’s teammates actually look excited. Can it last with Kobe essentially becoming Steve Nash and Nash becoming a spot-up shooter and Pau Gasol unhappy coming off the bench and D’Antoni apparently swallowing whole large chunks of his offensive system? Who knows, but it sure is another delicious layer to this ridiculous drama.
Scott Howard-Cooper: A longer streak than three games would convince me, especially when the last of the three is letting New Orleans off the mat in the fourth quarter in Los Angeles. Winning on the road would convince me, which is especially relevant since the Lakers begin a seven-game trip Wednesday. Any roster with that much talent and experience gets a certain benefit of the doubt that they are very capable of finding a rhythm. But after this much bad, it will take time to convince a lot of skeptics they are suddenly surrounded by good.
John Schuhmann: They’ve looked good at home and they’ve looked good offensively in the last three games. Now let’s see what they can do on the road and if they can get their act together defensively. Starting with this seven-game trip that tips off in Phoenix on Wednesday, they have five more road games than home games remaining. And it’s the defensive end of the floor that will really determine if they can make the run needed to get into the playoffs. So I’ll be convinced (that they can get the seventh or eight seed and lose in five games to the Spurs or Thunder) if they go at least 5-2 on this trip and if they can play top-10 defense over a 10-game stretch.
Sekou Smith: They have found what folks in the over-the-counter medicine business refer to as “something that provides temporary relief” for whatever ails them. I’m not prepared to call it the “answer.” They have to climb all the way back from their sub-.500 existence and immerse themselves fully in the Western Conference playoff chase before I upgrade their condition fully. I must admit, this three-game streak has been impressive. But what will convince me that the Lakers have officially found an answer is if you ask this question again after the All-Star break and the Lakers are still playing this way.