Despite Rumors, Speculation, the Lakers Still Matter…For Now

Right before the All-Star break ESPN columnist Scoop Jackson wrote that the thrill we’re used associating with Los Angeles Lakers’ basketball is surprisingly gone.

In Jackson’s opinion, the Lakers’ boring brand of basketball this season has led to “the Clippers eclipsing them as the talk of the town,” and more importantly (this is also in his opinion) “when a team goes from ruling the world to being perceived as not having a chance in hell to winning a ring, loud becomes quiet. Inconsequence meets inevitably.”

Contrary to popular opinion, the Los Angeles Lakers are far from finished, and Scoop Jackson is wrong.

I’m aware this point has been exhausted but the compressed schedule doesn’t favor the veteran teams in the league. With a 10-day training camp coupled with a lack of practice time, the teams that NBA fans are used to seeing near the top of the standings are hovering around mediocrity.

The three most consistent teams in the Western Conference over the last decade have all encountered one issue or another so far: The Spurs lost by 40 points to the Blazers, the largest margin they’ve lost by since Tim Duncan was drafted in 1997, when Gregg Popovich elected to rest Tony Parker, Duncan and with Manu Ginobili out with an injury.

The Mavericks have only recently picked up their play, after their star Dirk Nowitzki had to sit out several games due to conditioning, as he admitted to not being in basketball shape by the time the season started.

And finally, the Lakers have had trouble finding consistency from everyone besides Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The common theme is that all of those issues are short-term and fully resolvable before any meaningful basketball is played in April. Lest we forget, the New York Knicks team littered with veterans with tired legs reached the Finals as an eighth seed the last time we had a shortened season.

While Jackson’s argument of the Lakers barely being discussed in the national media is valid, keep in mind it’s also written by a staff member of the largest media outlet who has decided voluntarily to shift the narrative of this season from “can the Lakers rebound from last season’s disappointment” to hyping up “Lob City!”

Jackson claims this season may mark the end of the Lakers’ monopoly on all things NBA. What he doesn’t write about is all the things the Lakers have quietly done well away from the limelight.

At Staples Center the Lakers are an NBA best 14-2 at home. As of the All-Star break, the Lakers are second in the Western Conference in opposition points per game. And despite not being labelled lob city, the Lakers have led the league in converted alley-oops. Oh, and Kobe Bryant is still leading the league in scoring in his 16th NBA season.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The 2011-12 Lakers are a team in transition forced to carve an identity for themselves during games due to the lack of practice time. From the previous season, the Lakers returned only nine of their players, while welcoming five new faces to the team (six if the Rasheed Wallace rumors are true), the entire coaching staff has been revamped; and to put the cherry on top, Jim Buss has inherited the most popular basketball franchise in America from his father.

While the Lakers don’t look like contenders just yet, they’ve certainly shown progress since Christmas morning. In the season opener, they only lost to the Eastern Conference leading Bulls by one point without Andrew Bynum. When Bynum did come back from injury on New Year’s Eve, he had 29 points and 13 rebounds in a win against the Nuggets. After weeks of struggling to find a balance between Kobe’s gunning ways to the post orientated play that would involve more touches for Pau Gasol and Bynum, it looks like the Lakers are finally getting it together. The win over Portland was mighty convincing, well until the fourth quarter anyways, and the road win over the defending champs was a huge confidence booster for Mike Brown’s team.

Kobe Bryant has really been the only Laker making the headlines this year by shattering record after record. What I say next may be unpopular, but I truly believe that there’s a lot to learn for this Lakers team if Bryant is forced to sit out a couple games due to the concussion he suffered Sunday from Dwyane Wade’s clothesline.

Tangent: it’s unlikely Bryant will play due to the NBA’s new concussion policy, which states that a player must be symptom-free for 24 hours before the next scheduled game according to Mike Bresnahan, the L.A. Times Lakers’ beat reporter.

The entire season it’s been Kobe this and Kobe that. This could be the time for the rest of the team to show its worth. Bynum will finally be the vocal point of offense as he’s so often desired, and the under-used Gasol will most definitely be getting more looks. If Bryant sees that the team doesn’t require him to play hero ball in order to win he might accept that in order for this team to return to the finals he should facilitate first and score second, like he did in the closing minute of the Mavericks game.

If you believe everything the media is saying about this team, they’re making it sound like the Lakers should start rebuilding, when they should really just be looking to reload.

The Lakers “thrill” might be gone for now, but it’ll pick up steam again when the playoffs roll around. Just you wait, Scoop Jackson, come June you’ll be eating your words.

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