Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash

The Lakers are right on schedule, but is it too late?


Picture this: Steve Nash dribbles up court, surveying the floor. As he crosses half court, he maneuvers towards the three point line. Once there, Dwight Howard comes and sets a pick and rolls hard to the basket but doesn’t get the ball. Nash probes the defense, dribbling into the paint and underneath the hoop, spotting Kobe Bryant open on the wing. Kobe raises to shoot a jumper but instead rifles a pass to a wide open Howard under the hoop who catches the pass for a dunk.

Or picture this: Kobe is hounding the opposing point guard full court. Before the ball handler gets to the timeline, he’s been turned multiple times, his pattern up the floor an inefficient zig-zag. With the shot clock winding down, the ball goes to the wing. That player, feeling pressure from Metta World Peace, tries to drive and get a shot off before the help arrives. But Howard swoops in, alters the shot, and then secures the rebound.

Or this: Nash is pushing the ball up court, looking to improvise. Defenders are retreating and recovering to the paint while still trying to find their men in semi-transition. On one wing is Kobe. On the other is Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark. Howard is trailing the action but running well, looking for the ball should the action slow. Nash veers left towards Kobe, but instead fires a pass to Clark. As a defender chases the ball, Clark instantly passes to Jamison in the corner who shoots, and sinks, an uncontested three pointer.

Actually, you don’t have to just picture them — these are sequences from the last three Lakers’ games. It’s the middle of January and they’re finally starting to get it. This is good news, right?

Before the season started, this was the timeline many thought the Lakers would be operating on. With a team of players turned over by half — including some big name acquisitions — they’d need time to find their collective stride. With Howard still recovering from his back surgery, the expectations were that the team would start somewhat slowly. Give them time to heal, to jell, to build up that familiarity that all teams need to reach their peak. Once that happened, they’d start to string together good performances and become a terror that teams would want to avoid.

The Lakers are getting closer to being that team. The defense is improving. The offense, though efficient for the entire season, is staring to show more fluidity. Players are communicating better and seem to be on the same page. And while there are still hurdles to clear — What to do with Pau Gasol? How to mix their lineups effectively? Do they sure up their bench?  — the list of positives with this team is finally starting to outweigh the negatives. They are making progress. Lots of it.

The only problem is the hole they’ve dug themselves in the process of getting to this point. The moral victories are piling up, but the Lakers need real victories to sustain them. They currently sit 5 games below .500 with 17 wins and 22 losses. They’re the 11th seed in the West with only a half a season left to play. So as much as D’Antoni would love to hit the reset button on this season, the Lakers’ season did not, in fact, start this past Sunday.

The time to turn their season around was weeks ago, but is only starting to happen now. Do the Lakers have enough time left?

Over the past 4 seasons, the 8th seed in the Western Conference has averaged 48 wins. For the Lakers to get to that mark, they would need to close with the season with a 31-12 push. Possible? Yes. Plausible? The friendliest response would say maybe. A neutral observer would say it’s pretty unlikely.

There is a formula for the Lakers to reach their goal of making the post-season. If they can get above the .500 mark by the all-star break they’d put themselves in position to make one last push to sneak in as the 8th seed. In Phil Jackson’s last year with the team, the Lakers came out of the all-star break winning 19 of 20 games before injuries saw them sputter into the playoffs. Is this team capable of making that type of push from the middle of February into March?

The way the team is playing now does make it seem anything is possible. If observed in a vacuum, their improvement on offense and recommitment to defense is the foundation of a team that can rattle off a bunch of wins in a short amount of time. Of course, this season isn’t taking place in a vacuum.

Funny how things work. The Lakers are starting to play well, right on the schedule we thought they would. But because of how bad they were to start the year, it may still be too late.

Tony Parker wants to play six more seasons with Spurs

Tony Parker
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Tony Parker revealed a plan nearly two years ago to play until he’s 38.

Coming off his worst season since his rookie year, the Spurs point guard is sticking to that goal.

Parker, via Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports:

“The Spurs know I want to play until I’m 38,” Parker told Yahoo Sports in a recent phone interview. “That will be 20 seasons for me. That’s my goal. This year is No. 15. And if I’m lucky enough and I’m healthy, hopefully I can play 20 seasons and then I’ll be ready to retire.”

That seems pretty ambitious, no matter how you handle the conflicting math. (Parker is 33. If he plays 20 seasons, he’ll spend most of his final season at age 39 and turn 40 during the playoffs.)

Parker is already showing signs of slippage. Many of his key numbers were down last season, including ESPN’s real-plus minus, where he quietly slipped from 12th to 67th among point guards.

But Gregg Popovich is very liberal with resting his players, and Parker won’t have to carry too much of the load. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will probably retire before Parker, but the Spurs will still have Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.

I wouldn’t count on it, but it’s possible Parker lasts that long.

Report: Pelicans signing Greg Smith

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The Pelicans starting center, Omer Asik, is injured.

Their backup center, Alexis Ajinca, is injured.

Enter Greg Smith.

Scott Kushner of The Advocate:

Smith was part of the Rockets’ 2012-13 rotation, but otherwise, he has seen limited minutes in his four-year career with Houston and Dallas. In that small sample, he has looked alright. The 6-foot-10 24-year-old uses his big frame and massive hands to catch passes and finish efficiently near the rim. He has also become more disciplined defensively.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes the regular-season roster behind the 13 Pelicans with guaranteed salaries.

But it’s also possible New Orleans signed him just an extra preseason body. That’d beat relying too heavily on the aging Kendrick Perkins and undersized Jeff Adrien at center. Anthony Davis is the Pelicans’ best option at center with Asik and Ajinca sidelined (and maybe even with them healthy), but the biggest drawback to playing him there is the injury risk. If Davis is going to deal with the banging at center, might as well save it for games that count.

Still, even New Orleans plans to keep Smith only through the preseason, this at least gives him a chance to impress.