Sign of New Times: Lakers Are Excited About Reaching .500 Mark

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Los Angeles LakersLong season’s journey to… the .500 mark?

Give me this again, the Lakers reach .500 for the first time in 2013–even if it takes until March 3–and everyone is excited?

However this ends, whether it sets up a comeback in 2013-14 or it’s a sign post pointing to hell, Laker seasons have never been about a goal so modest.

They were either great—most of the Jerry Buss era—and expected to compete for titles or heads would roll… or they were awful as in 1994-95 when Magic Johnson coached—15 games–or 2003-04 after trading Shaquille O’Neal, showing Phil Jackson the door, seeing Rudy Tomjanovich flee and going 34-48 with their 1-2 tandem of Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom.

Now they’re great–on paper—but nowhere else.

On the floor, they’re not even “pretty good.” They’ve actually just arisen from “pretty bad” at 17-25 on Jan. 23 to their present “nondescript,” so that’s something.

What a weekend it was, blowing away Minnesota remnants minus Kevin Love, Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger and soon Nikola Pekovic, and an Atlanta mirage that arrived nine games over .500.

Hopefully, everyone can enjoy it while it lasts.

The Lakers are at Oklahoma City Tuesday night where they’ll drop back under. 500, barring an upset that would signal things have really changed.

Happily for the Lakers, they’re at New Orleans Wednesday, so if their advanced age isn’t too much of a problem, they should be able to regain the elusive .500 mark.

Of course, with games against the Raptors and Bulls here, followed by a three-game trip to Orlando (no problem?), Atlanta (who knows?) and Indiana (gulp), it remains to be seen if they’ll be over .500 on March 15.

But let’s look at the bright side.

Of course, they’ll make the playoffs! Kone Bryant guaranteed it! They’ve won 13 of 18!

OK, who thinks they’ll get past the first round, on the road against the Spurs, Thunder or Clippers?

(Any of you who think the Lakers will reach the second round are eligible for “Hard-core Laker Fan” T-shirts.)

Amazingly, or depressingly for Lakerdom, stunning as it was, people have gotten used to this Laker twilight.

At the start of the season, everyone, not just Laker fans, expected a return to greatness after the surprise acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.

There was no way they could miss, I wrote. It was like the Celtics in 2007, a perfect fit, adding Kevin Garnett, the backbone of their defense, and Ray Allen, the outside shooter who would spread the floor, to Paul Pierce, their go-to guy in crunch time.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Los Angeles LakersNash would make the game easy for Kobe. Defenses would wind up going back and forth between Howard and Bryant, as they had between Shaq and Kobe.

The Clippers?

Despite the acclaim they got for bringing in Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, et al, they were going back to sleeping next to the fireplace like Cinderella, doomed to be eclipsed despite their early hype as in 2011-12 when few noticed they within one game of the Lakers and came within one day of lasting as long in the playoffs.

Six months later, the Lakers backcourt is finally becoming dynamite as Nash spreads out defenses with his dead-eye shooting–at least since Kobe prevailed upon him to start putting the ball up.

Instead of 10 eyeballs fixed on Bryant, the game has, indeed, become easy for Kobe, averaging 35-7-6, shooting 57 percent in the most efficient five-game spurt of his 17-year career.

There’s only one problem.

It’s not the Is-Dwight-Healthy one, the Are-He-and-Kobe-Finally-on-the-Same-Page one or the Will-He-Stay one (the answers: marginally, no way and who knows.)

This is the one about running the pick-and-roll with Nash, whose unmatched shooting makes him the best P/R guy ever (only one of top 100 in all-time threes—at No. 10—who’s in top 100 in accuracy, too, at No. 8).

The Lakers now say Dwight’s getting better at the pick-and-roll.

Judge for yourself next time you watch them.

They don’t run many. In the ones they do, Dwight, who was slipping all his screens—as he did in Orlando-is now settling for screening Nash’s man, allowing Steve to shoot.

Count the times Dwight sets a real screen, rolls to the hoop and gets the ball.

That should have been the core of Mike D’Antoni’s offense as it was in Phoenix, forcing opponents to dedicate three players to two Lakers, freeing everyone else up.

In other words, it should have been like the days when two opponents had to attend to Shaq, leaving the other three to guard four Lakers, one of whom was Kobe.

If the Lakers make this work, they won’t be worrying about being .500 and the world will no longer be flat, with a drop-off after the first round of the playoffs, or before it.

So, if reaching the .500 mark is a thin pretext for celebrating in Lakerdom, their fans can still dream.

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