For two games, the Lakers have had success going away from Mike D’Antoni’s system.
They have slowed the pace down (93 possessions against the Thunder, 90 against the Jazz, both below their 97 a game average). Kobe Bryant is running the point, drawing the double team and making the pass (and you can bet when the doubles slow a little he will start shooting again). He’s having a lot of success doing that from the right mid-post, with a screen coming for him. With Kobe at the facilitator the ball doesn’t stick, it moves. When it moves you see Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard cut off the ball to open spaces and the rim. That has led to a high shooting percentage because of the good looks (54.5 percent shooting as a team for two games, with Kobe shooting better than 68 percent).
The bigger change is the Lakers have defended a lot better (they were at their season average against the Thunder, but as that is the best offense in the NBA keeping them in any kind of check is an accomplishment).
The changes, the win over the Thunder has given Lakers fans hope.
But this week the real tests start.
Tuesday night the Lakers get an improving Hornets team. Then they head out on the road for seven games — the Grammy road trip when Taylor Swift and Frank Ocean kick the Lakers (and Clippers) out of the building for a couple weeks.
On paper the road trip isn’t that brutal, only the Nets and Heat are over .500. But road trips are never that simple. The Pistons have been playing much better of late, the Celtics defend and no rivalry game is ever easy, plus other teams will be up for it.
Teams are going to start adjusting to what the Lakers are doing and the Lakers are going to have to go to their counters while on this trip — the Thunder came with hard doubles at Kobe, which had worked in the last meeting but did not this time around. Teams will watch that tape and learn. Teams are going to maybe not double at all, make Kobe the scorer and see if they can beat you with him shooting 30-plus times. The Lakers are going to have to stay true to what is working and not start having Kobe just looking to shoot or Steve Nash deciding to run.
Give Mike D’Antoni credit — a lot of people, myself included, have watched the Lakers up to now and question how much he was really willing to adjust to win with this roster. Finally that change is becoming the kind of radical change the Lakers need.
But two games is not real change. It’s a step, but it’s not real change.
And the Lakers are going to get tested between now and the All-Star Break. By then we’ll know if the change is for real, and if their playoff dreams still are.