Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
The Los Angeles Lakers entered into the All-Star break with a three-game losing streak against the likes of the Magic, Bobcats and Cavaliers. As is the case for any losing streak the top teams go through during the regular season, this created a lot of panic for Laker fans everywhere which inevitably ”Are the Lakers done?” columns around the internet.
But since then, the Lakers have completely turned it around, going on a 10-1 streak since the break, with their lone loss coming to the Miami Heat (in Miami, by just six points, in a game that the Heat needed much more than LA). And it’s not as if the Lakers have tossed the Kings and Wizards aside to pile up wins, all but two of their 10 victories have come against potential playoff teams and they’ve taken down the likes of Atlanta (twice, once at home, once on the road), Portland (on the road), Oklahoma City (on the road), San Antonio (on the road in a blowout), Dallas (on the road with a hurt Kobe) and the Orlando Magic (at home with a hurt Kobe).
Their two latest victories have been their two most impressive during this stretch. They pulled out a tough win over the Mavericks despite having Kobe turn his ankle late in the third quarter and they completely shut down the Magic in the second half of a 13-point win over Orlando at home, holding them to just 38 points in the final two periods.
After trailing the Magic at half-time, the Lakers got a few baskets from Kobe Bryant, who went two-of-10 from the floor in the first quarter, to jumpstart the offense in the third quarter and then a trio of triples from Shannon Brown, Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom to start the fourth quarter got the Lakers’ lead well into double-digits and Orlando never got back within 10. Bryant finished with just 16 points on seven-of-19 shooting and in retrospect, he really shouldn’t have taken the floor for this one to rest his bum ankle. But Derek Fisher delivered one of his best offensive performances of the year, dropping 15 points on six-of-nine shooting with a pair of three’s to help the Lakers make up for Kobe’s off night.
And then of course, there’s the real reason the Lakers won this game and the biggest factor in their dominant 10-1 run.
Andrew Bynum has been simply fantastic of late, dominating games for the Lakers on the defensive end of the floor while proving why he is such an important factor for the Lakers. Bynum’s movements on the defensive end have been more fluid than they have been since his two major knee injuries over the past two seasons and now that he is moving well, he’s able to play to his potential.
Bynum at full strength has allowed the Lakers to approach the game with a new defensive mindset. Los Angeles’ guards are now funneling their man into the lane constantly to present anyone driving to the basket with the challenge of finishing over Bynum. This has been particularly effective for LA when defending pick and rolls. Against the San Antonio Spurs, the Tony Parker/Tim Duncan pick and roll that normally kills opponents was completely negated. Bynum was there to stop Parker almost every time he attacked the basket, forcing him to pass the ball off. If Parker did turn the corner fast enough to beat Drew to the paint, Bynum was right behind him, swatting his shot from behind.
Bynum’s defense has had a profound effect on the rest of the team, which is not only shown by the 10-1 record over the past 11 games. The Lakers have only allowed over 100 points once during this stretch, and that was in an overtime game against Portland. Other than that, they’ve held the Atlanta Hawks to 80 and 87 points, the Spurs to 83 points, the Thunder to 87 points, the Mavericks to 91 and the Heat to 94. The Lakers have also held their opponents below their season average for defensive efficiency in eight of their last 11 games.
Bynum’s impact on the boards has also been evident and extremely impactful. He finished last night’s game against the Magic with 18 rebounds in just 28 minutes (Dwight Howard had had just 15 in 43 minutes) with nine of those boards coming on the offensive end of the floor where he flat out worked Howard on many possessions. Over the Lakers’ last five games against the Spurs, Hawks, Heat, Mavericks and Magic – four of the top 15 teams in the league in rebound rate – Bynum has averaged an unbelievable 15.6 rebounds per game. Against the Spurs and Magic, Bynum grabbed 17 and 18 rebounds respectively, despite playing just 28 minutes in each contest. Bynum’s long arms have proved to be an irreplaceable asset for the Lakers, especially with a pair of healthy legs fueling him towards each board.
The play of Bynum has helped the Lakers overcome a rare shooting slump from Kobe Bryant that has extended over the past three games. Kobe shot just eight-of-21 against the Miami Haet, six-of-20 against Dallas and seven-of-19 against Orlando. Kobe’s shooting 35% over the past three games for the Lakers and yet they’ve managed to win two of the three games (while barely losing the other) against two of the top eight teams in the NBA. This should strike fear in potential playoff opponents for the Lakers.
Normally, a rough shooting patch from Kobe would spell a rough patch for the Lakers but instead, Bynum’s impact on the defensive end of the floor has allowed the Lakers to make up the difference by getting more stops. And that’s without a major contribution from anyone else on the team. Pau Gasol has been his normal 20/10 self of late but there haven’t been any heroic, out-of-character performances from someone like Matt Barnes or Steve Blake. They are simply shutting the opposition down to win games when Kobe is off. And when he’s on, the combination of a lethal offense and dominant defense is a combination that no team can match.
The Lakers have righted the ship with their 10-1 surge and have made themselves the easy favorite to win the NBA championship as the playoffs near. With their latest win over the Magic, Los Angeles moved into a tie for the second seed in the West and fourth place in the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks. They are also just a half game back of both the Bulls and Celtics for second place in the overall league standings. Based on their play of late, don’t be surprised if the Lakers end up surpassing all of these teams as they continue to turn it on before the playoffs arrive.