Lakers improve in several areas during team's seven-game winning streak
The Lakers and their fans alike would never have thought so at the time. But upon looking back, Pau Gasol believes the Lakers' 111-87 Game 4 first-round loss to Oklahoma City propelled their current seven-game winning streak.
"We understood what it took from each and every one of us as far as how to get it done," Gasol said. "It took a couple of bad losses to understand that we really needed to play our best game and bring our focus and intensity in every single game and every single play. Once we did that, we went to another level."
Since then, the Lakers took two games from Oklahoma City, swept the Utah Jazz in the semifinals and imposed their will in a 128-107 Game 1 Western Conference Finals victory Monday over the Phoenix Suns. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson expects the Suns to have a much better effort. He believes they'll attempt to double more on Kobe Bryant. He believes Phoenix's 5-of-22 clip from three-point range in Game 1 reflected an off shooting night considering the Suns entered the series leading the NBA in three-point field-goal percentage. And Bryant contended the Lakers still have a long way to go before securing seven more wins en route to a second consecutive title.
But there's no denying the Lakers are a much better team than when the City of Angels went under martial law because the Thunder tied its first-round series with the Lakers at 2-2.
Apparently, Lakers forward Ron Artest disagrees with the assertion the team changed its identity. "I think we're playing the same way," Artest said. "That Oklahoma team is pretty good."
You don't always need statistics to prove Artest is wrong, but it doesn't hurt to do so anyway. The Lakers' margin of victory in these past seven games has reached 11 points, and three of those wins came by double digits. Bryant has scored at least 30 points in the past six games, including a 40-point effort in Game 1 against Phoenix, a string of performances Bryant credits to better health in his swollen right knee. Gasol has scored at least 20 points in five of the seven wins. Artest's shooting improved from 30% in the first four games against Oklahoma City to 42.6% in the past seven games. Lakers guard Derek Fisher improved a tad too, going from a 40.5% clip to a 46.9% mark.
After allowing Oklahoma City to average 18 fast-break points in the first four games, the Lakers yielded an average of 8.28 points in transition, including limiting the Suns in Game 1 to four fast-break points. After the Thunder out-rebounded the Lakers in their Games 3 and 4 losses, the Lakers have dominated the glass in the remaining seven games by an average margin of four rebounds. The Jazz out-rebounded the Lakers twice in Games 3 and 4, but the Lakers overwhelmed them on the glass in Game 2, 58-40.
Part of the resurgence has to do with the fact that Utah and Phoenix don't have the size to counteract the Lakers' length. But part of the resurgence has to do with the Lakers managing the tempo better with an improved effort in shot selection and effort.
Said Jackson: "At that particular time, we were struggling with choice of shots and defensive transition and the attentiveness it requires."
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