The skeptics (me among them) never expected the Los Angeles Lakers to do this well in the 2013-2014 NBA Season. One month and a week into it, they’re at a 9-8 record following their 106-102 win over the Detroit Pistons, as Mike D’Antoni seems to be getting the most of players like Wesley Johnson, Jordan Farmar, Nick Young and Shawne Williams, setting the ground as best as possible for the Kobe Bryant return.
While the ambitious project in Detroit is threatening to go belly up as Josh Smith insists on playing like he’s actually a small forward, things are working out quite well for the Lakers, even on nights when Pau Gasol isn’t having a very easy time against a formidable frontcourt. There are guards and perimeter players who might not be the creme de la creme of the NBA, but they’re coming together in a very positive way.
Nick Young isn’t known for his defense, but it was his standing firm and taking the charge from Josh Smith that put the game to bed. The Lakers were up 104-102 at this point, and Smith was driving to the basket. Young put his foot down outside of the restricted area and got a charging call on Smith, which was shocking to all with the game in Detroit. That might be the difference between franchises, as it’s hard to believe the Lakers getting a call like that against them, especially in LA.
I told Nick after the game that I was about to be the first NBA coach to ever say that he had won a game with his defense. We joke about it, but he’s really worked hard on that part of his game since he came to camp, and it shows. He watches tape and he’s doing what he can to get better.
The Lakers were down 99-91 at some point during the fourth quarter, but they enjoyed another cold streak from the stagnant Detroit offense, shooting only 12.5% from beyond the arc in what’s growing to be much more than a fixable problem. No ball movement, and no one taking the shots they’re suppose to, with Josh Smith ruining his great all around game (19 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals, 3 blocks) with 4-of-16 shooting and five turnovers.
The Lakers were led by Wesley Johnson, scoring 27 points, finding it hard to miss shots on 9-of-11 from the field. Unlike what was expected, the ball is actually moving well for the Lakers, feeling more and more comfortable with each other. They hit 14-of-31 from beyond the arc, managing to erase their 72-28 deficit when it came to points in the paint. As it turned out, being able to make shots from long range and giving up on battling Drummond, Monroe and Smith was the winning recipe.
Sahwne Williams, a player averaging just 5.1 points per game, was the most surprising contributor, scoring 20 points on a rare 6-of-11 from beyond the arc night. The Lakers have shooters, and in recent games have been able to move the ball quickly to take advantage of that. Maybe things will be different when Kobe Bryant returns, but for now, even with their problems down low and defensively, there’s something quite pleasant brewing. Not only a pleasant surprise, but a fun to watch offensive team as well.