It’s still too early in the game to declare the Lakers NBA champions. But all the championship symptoms are there. Since the All-Star break the Lake Show has been giving one command performance after another – Miami notwithstanding.
Last night’s clash with the Orlando Magic displayed all those tell-tale signs of a champion.
The first half was anything but a thing of beauty for the Lakers. They couldn’t make a shot and struggled defending the three-point line. Orlando’s game is predicated on camping out behind the arc and giving Dwight Howard space to operate down low.
Too bad for Superman II that one Altered Beast wearing #17 was there waiting for him.
Bynum was unbelievable in the first quarter. He nearly notched a double-double dropping 6 and pulling down 11 boards in the first 12 minutes. But that storyline looked like it was going to go wanting as Drew was saddled with first half foul trouble.
To make matters worse Kobe Bryant was pretty much useless with that nagging ankle. His shot was flat and once he looked like he was getting into a rhythm the ball just wouldn’t fall.
But one of the traits of a champion is the ability to elevate your game in other areas when certain ones are lagging.
Offensively the Lakers were plain offensive in the first half but they dominated in most every other aspect. Shooting just 37% helped give the Magic a halftime lead but by forcing turnovers, controlling the boards and owning the paint the Lakers put themselves in a position to win.
And wouldn’t you know it, come the start of the second half we saw one of those vintage Phil Jackson influenced third quarters.
Despite Drew picking up his fourth foul early, the Lakers still did their best to defend Howard. More importantly, Kobe got it going and the offense was clicking as the Lake Show made 11 of their first 15 third quarter shots.
Bryant and Artest bullied the Magic forcing turnover after turnover as a deficit slowly increased to a double digit lead.
Lamar Odom contributed 16 off the bench as he led a second unit that outscored the Magic bench 27-13.
Another element necessary for any team with championship aspirations is getting contributions from unexpected places.
Enter Derek Fisher.
D-Fish hasn’t been much a factor this year but we know his contributions are usually made at the biggest moments. But last night Fisher was fantastic. Derek’s 15 points came on 6 of 9 shooting and included some big buckets in key moments.
After it was all said and done the Lakers cruised to a 97-84 win that was so one sided in the second half that KB24 was able to shut it down early and get some work done on his ankle. This was a second half of champions.
Now to be fair, the Magic do shoot themselves in and out of games and last night was no different. But that has nothing to do with all those turnovers the Laker defense caused. Sure Howard always gets his (22 and 15) but those 9 TOs he coughed up don’t help at all. Plus his 22 didn’t come cheap as Bynum forced him to work much harder than he normally would on most nights.
Now one game doesn’t decide a champion in pro hoops but last night was one game that showed why the Lakers can (dare I say will?) be champions. Oh and don’t look now but the Lakers are quietly creeping up on the Spurs. Not saying they’re going to catch San Antonio for the top spot out West but things aren’t nearly as settled as you might think.