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.
Are the Lakers better or worse than they were a month ago? The same?
Steve Aschburner: The Lakers are better than they were simply by virtue of time spent together. No training camp with this coach, all those new faces/egos — that sort of thing requires a learning curve. Out of sheer familiarity they ought to be able to function a little better, which to me means snagging the No. 8 seed. But it’s small consolation for all that churning at the start and, in my view, we can already write off this Lakers season as a huge disappointment. It’s just not official yet.
Fran Blinebury: Slightly better, if only because they realize they’re running out of rope and have been playing with a little more sense of urgency, which has brought them together. But I believe it’s all still hanging by a thread and the tough finishing schedule might be too difficult to overcome.
Jeff Caplan: Well there’s no doubt that they are better. As John Schuhmann showed with advanced stats, the Lakers’ efficiency numbers haven’t changed much, but as Thunder coach Scott Brooks pointed out, the Lakers finally have gained some chemistry and continuity. Coach Mike D’Antoni said players have accepted their roles, accepted what’s going on with the team and that Dwight Howard is feeling better and better and Kobe Bryant is playing out of this world. Also, all the swirling drama from Day One has finally subsided and basketball is the main storyline for the first time all season. Sure, they still have issues such as transition defense and even putting a stamp on an offensive identity from game to game as Steve Nash noted less than two weeks ago. But, yes, this team is better.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Better. I would say much better because they have been stacking wins for a change, except that the recovery has mostly come at the expense of lesser opponents. When they played the Thunder, the Nuggets, the Clippers and the Heat, the Lakers lost. But the wins have led to improved chemistry. There have been encouraging moments for the defense as well. But they won’t be different in an important way without wins over some bigger names.
John Schuhmann: Well, they’re better, because 13-6 is better than 17-25 and the defense has been slightly improved. But they’re not much better, as I wrote Tuesday. They’ve had more success in close games, which is somewhat arbitrary. They weren’t as bad as their record over their first 42 games, and they’re not as good as their record over their last 19. And they’re probably in for a dog fight over the last six weeks for that last playoff spot in the West.
Sekou Smith: I’m ignoring the advanced metrics and focusing on the numbers that matter in this case; wins and losses. They are basically the same today that they were on Feb. 6. The Lakers have handled the teams they should be able to handle, but they continue to come up short against the elite teams (see Oklahoma City Tuesday night). And I’m still not sure what anyone on the roster outside of Kobe Bryant will do down the stretch of the regular season. Kobe has made it clear that he’s going to drag this team into the playoffs, kicking and screaming if need be, and that he’s going to go as hard as he has to in order to make that happen. But even with all of his hard work the Lakers still haven’t shown me that they are the team we all thought they were when they added Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in the summer.