How Good Are the Lakers?

by

Michael, I gotta have more cowbell!

ESPN has already asked Phil Jackson the 70 wins question. And if they’re going to ask someone, it might as well be Phil. His Bulls did it once and came close twice. It’s an interesting question not because the Lakers have gone 7-0 through the first two weeks of the season. Several teams have managed that feat (the 1996 Bulls who won 72 games did not). Nor are the Lakers on a record-pace for point differential or efficiency differential. The Heat are.

What has been truly impressive about the Lakers is the way they’ve won their seven games. There is a precision in their play that comes of a strong core with years of playoff experience. The defending champs are picking defenses apart. By the advanced numbers they are leading the league is scoring (points per game), Offensive Rating (points produced per 100 team possessions) and SRS (simple rating system – a formula that weights teams by point differetial, strength of schedule, and other mathish criteria). All of those things could be thrown off by one or two big blowouts at this stage, but that really hasn’t been the case with LA. They have three blowouts, two close games, and two respectable margins of victory while being consistently dominant on offense, and they haven’t really overplayed their starters to do it.

Kobe, you like-a dee juice? Dee juice, it is a-good, yeah?

Kobe’s pre-season woes seem to be behind him. He’s playing crisp, effective basketball even if his lift isn’t what it once was (it seems like I make that same point in some form every season – Kobe’s lost some hops, but his offensive game is getting tighter and tighter). Pau is playing like an MVP right now, truly dominating the center position. Don’t get mad at me for daring to comparing him to one of the ten best players ever, but he reminds me of Tim Duncan with his versatility and decision-making on offense. Odom has been steadier than usual, giving more good and less yawn. Artest hasn’t shot great, but he’s been making plays and has been a real bright spot on a defense that is waiting for the return of Bynum to fully get its act together.

Bynum would be the elephant not in the room if the Lakers’ second unit was hurting, but it hasn’t been. Blake is proving to be exactly what LA expected, an experienced hand and quick pickup in the triangle who works his tail off on defense, hits open shots, and respects his own limitations. A younger version of Fisher for all intents and purposes. Shannon Brown came back from summer vacation with a jumpshot in his suitcase. When Kobe and Fisher sit, the guard positions remain dangerous. Matt Barnes has acknowledged his difficulties in picking up the triangle, but he’s been making contributions with his effort and size, playing in a double small forward alignment with Artest that has held its own on the boards. The two rookies, Caracter and Ebanks, and the old hand Ratliff have added some needed depth to the front line in Bynum’s absence. This looks like one of the most solid benches in the league already, and Lamar Odom will be joining it between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Happy freakin’ holidays!

So can the Lakers eclipse the Bulls’ mark of 72 wins? Should they? Will they? I have no idea. I don’t think they can make that a legitimate goal just yet. The season feels full of possibilities when no struggles have taken place, and a team hasn’t suffered a loss yet. One thing in their favor though is a relatively easy schedule early. They don’t have a single game against the Celtics, Magic, Heat, or Spurs (the four teams whom we at Double Dribble projected to be the defending champs’ biggest obstacles to threepeating prior to the season’s tipoff) until Christmas day. However Christmas week will be a test with Miami at home followed by a South Western conference trip through San Antonio and New Orleans. If the Lakers make it to the All-Star break with losses in the low single digits, then Kobe can start pressing the boys to help him snag one MJ record that nobody thought we’d see broken for a very long time.

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