Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Lake Show Keeps Rolling

After the Los Angeles Lakers started this season 9-8, most observers thought that once again, they would be a fringe playoff team again at best. Since that sluggish start though, the Lakers now have won 13 of their past 16 games, the most recent being a 117-101 win over the Memphis Grizzlies last night in the first of a short two game road trip. Derek Fisher was almost perfect from the field, making 10 of 11 shots including all five of his three-point attempts, while scoring 26 points. Kobe Bryant added 25 points for the Lakers.

In the past few years, the Lakers have been basically all about Kobe. The modus operandi of opponents has basically been if you shut down Kobe, you'll beat the Lakers. Such is no longer the case. Over the past three years, Kobe was averaging about 41 minutes of playing time a game, while averaging a tick under 32 points a game. This year, the Lakers have been playing so well, that Kobe has gotten a lot more rest, particularly in the fourth quarter of games. In fact, he's only playing about 36 1/2 minutes a game, scoring 26.7 points a game - his lowest levels since the 2003-04 season. As a direct result of not having to shoulder so much of the offensive burden, Kobe has been able to focus more on defense. His 2.1 steals per game and 6.0 rebounds per game are his highest marks since the 2002-03 season.

So, who has taken up the slack? Fisher has been a steadying force with his experience, calm demeaner and leadership, scoring 12.8 points per game and hitting on nearly 45% of his 3-point shots. Lamar Odom has been healthy for most of the year and has been very productive when commissioner Stern has not doled out cheap one-game suspensions to him, scoring nearly 14 points a game to go with 9.3 rebounds. The big surprise continues to be the growth of center Andrew Bynum. The 20 year-old is scoring 12.8 points per game and is grabbing a team high 10.0 rebounds per contest. His 62.2% field goal percentage leads the team.

With a 22-11 record, this Laker team is looking very strong. The Lakers are currently only 1 1/2 games behind the Phoenix Suns for the division lead - a team the Lakers have beaten in both of their contests so far this season. Unlike last year's team, which started strong and folded late, this Laker team has a lot of depth. Luke Walton and Jordan Farmer also continue to grow and play prominent roles for them, while Vladimir Radmanovic adds a potent weapon off the bench from the outside. Don't be surprised if this Laker team actually makes a serious run at the division title and challenges the San Antonio Spurs for the Western Conference championship... Yes, folks... the Lake Show is BACK!!!


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