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Assessing the Lakers' 4-0 start since the All-Star break

59731931-1It was hard to believe them at the time, what with their lowly loss to Cleveland. But the Lakers' insistence that they'd play better after the All-Star break has turned out to be true. The Lakers (42-19) have won all four games since then and it's safe to bet they'll tack on another victory Tuesday at Minnesota (14-46), considering the discrepancy of records.

Sure, the Lakers haven't been immune to losing to sub-.500 teams, most notably that horrendous defeat to the Cavaliers that spurred talk about a trade, doubts about the Lakers' chances of three-peating and inquiries into whether Lakers sideline reporter John Ireland would follow up on his pledge to walk from Cleveland to L.A.

Here's a look below the jump at what's gone into the turnaround.

Rest: It's amazing what a simple weekend off from basketball will do to a team. The Lakers had shown during their seven-game trip how fatigue eventually contributed to them mentally and physically checking out. They opened up with a 4-0 start, including a signature win against Boston Celtics. Then they followed up with double-digit losses to Orlando, Charlotte and Cleveland. This doesn't exactly excuse the Lakers from their poor play, but it's a valid factor that the team failed to overcome.

Once the All-Star break hit, it seemed as if the players simply needed time away from each other and the game. That doesn't mean the All-Star break solely consisted of weekend trips to Mexico and the Caribbean, although that did happen. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol played in the All-Star game.  But the mere fact that the team's routine changed from the day-to-day grind helped them reflect on their own performances and allowed them to recharge.

Anger over losing: Feeling bored and complacent during the Lakers' regular season is never anything new. It makes for a compelling soap opera every season, even if the personnel is different. But in a recent interview with The Times' Lakers blog, assistant coach Brian Shaw pointed out a few differences that suggested the Lakers' current stretch this season appeared worse. The Lakers have suffered two four-game losing streaks this season, a feat that hadn't happened since since 2007 and a stretch that never happened during the Lakers' three-peat from 1999-2002. That point certainly wasn't lost on Lakers  Shaw, who played for L.A. from 1999-2003.

"That raises a flag with me in terms of, you'd expect for them to come out and be mad," Shaw said.  "You don't always see that with this team."

Finally, it seems like the Lakers have responded to that. Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak hoped the Lakers' loss to Cleveland could prove to be a "rallying cry," though he admitted he wasn't so sure. It turns out to be the case thus far.

Kobe Bryant dominance: Before the All-Star break, Bryant came down with the flu, showed symptoms on the court and revealed plenty of frustration. After the All-Star break, Bryant has come back to normal. He's shown the kind of heroics he displayed in his 37-point, 14-rebound effort that secured him a fourth All-Star MVP. After a four-of-15 shooting mark in the first half against Portland, Bryant stormed out with 11 third-quarter points and hit multiple jumpers, grabbed a key defensive rebounds and made six consecutive free throws to secure the Lakers' 106-101 overtime victory Feb. 23 over the Trail Blazers.

Against the Clippers, Bryant provided another reminder that his determination can overcome many injuries. After injuring his funny bone on his right elbow in the second quarter, Bryant came out in the third quarter and scored 18 points on eight of 11 shooting. He altered his release so that he didn't have to extend his right elbow as much, but the rest of his play entailed only using his left hand, including dribbling, dunking and high-fiving teammates. And though he scored 17 points on only eight of 22 shooting in the Lakers' 90-87 victory Feb. 27 over Oklahoma City, Bryant hit a few critical shots, including a turnaround jumper that gave the Lakers that 90-87 lead with 56 seconds remaining.

59731043Ron Artest has reemerged: At first, it appeared Artest would continue the same sort of problems that drive the Lakers and fans crazy. In the Lakers' 104-80 victory Feb. 22 to Atlanta, Artest opened the game by bobbling Derek Fisher's pass, airballing a three-pointer and committing an offensive foul. But he quickly overcame those mistakes by converting on a fast-break layup, stopping a fast break and making a pull-up jumper, ending with 11 points on four of seven shooting.

It was just the beginning.

Artest followed up the next night against Portland with a season-high 24 points on eight of 13 shooting as well as two steals, an effort that featured Artest making plenty of critical plays. After nailing a three-pointer that gave the Lakers a 95-92 lead with 2:46 remaining, he grabbed a crucial rebound that led to Bryant finding an open jumper off a curl. And to cap it off, the Lakers' victory against Oklahoma City featured Artest holding Kevin Durant to 21 points on eight-of-20 shooting. He also made two steals, including one when Artest swiped the ball away from Durant when the Lakers led 90-87 with 49.9 seconds remaining.

The Lakers' frontline is making its presence known: For Pau Gasol, posting three double-doubles in the past four games continues his best month of the season, ending February averaging 20.5 points on 59.2% shooting. For Andrew Bynum, his play after the All-Star break shows his ability to remain effective even as he's trying to improve his timing after jumps. Despite scoring only five points against Atlanta, Bynum grabbed a season-high 15 rebounds and provided the defensive presence that makes him a key ingredient to the Lakers' quest to three-peat. Gasol and Bynum have combined for an efficient 42 of 72 mark from the field, showing both of them are remaining engaged in their work in the post. But that mark could be even higher if the Lakers looked for them even more.

The Lakers are playing at a more deliberate pace: The Times' Broderick Turner explained in extensive detail how the Lakers' pacing has largely correlated to them holding opponents to 90.8 points per contest in the past four games. As much as this can be attributed to the defensive presence Bynum and Artest are providing, it also reflects more of the Lakers' awareness that they're not a fast-break team.

For far too long, the Lakers held the mindset they could outscore teams, and it prompted them to force shots and remain careless with the ball. That then exposed the Lakers' efforts in holding teams in transition. It remains an ongoing process since the Lakers committed 18 turnovers against Atlanta and 16 against Portland. But the Lakers' 29-of-64 mark from three-point range (45.5%) in the past four games shows a better rhythm in their shots. The Lakers in the past four games have combined with their opponents an average of 91.75 possessions, according to Hoopdata.com, which has demonstrated a more cognizant approach in controlling the tempo.

-- Mark Medina

Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo: Kobe Bryant reacts to a play in the second half of Sunday's 90-87 victory over the Thunder in Oklahoma City. Credit: Larry W. Smith / EPA

Photo: Ron Artest goes after the ball along with Thunder forward Kevin Druant in the first half Sunday. Credit: Larry W. Smith / EPA

 
Comments () | Archives (44)

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Even though I'm happy, I'm not going to start celebrating. The Lakers haven't done anything yet.

Agreed, Tim.


DBDH!

The team has definitely seemed more focused and determined since the All-Star break. I'm not going to lie...the back to back losses to the Bobcats and Cavs had me worried. The lack of effort in those games was troubling to say the least. I'm really happy to see Ron regain his mojo. He was really stinking it up for a while. The Lakers need Ron to fulfill his role as only he can. When Ron is contributing 10-12 points a game, keeping the opposing defense honest and playing Rottweiler type defense, he makes the Lakers a much, much better team.

I agree, Tim. It's a long road to the trophy, but I fully expect this Lakers team to be there in the end. They've got the talent, the depth, and the experience.

Go Lake Show!

Corey Brewer, anyone? Another swingman coupled with Barnes, LO, and the rest of the bench dudes? C'mon! Long, lanky, athletic? Do it! Do it!


DBDH!

Seems like for everyone on the team not named Kobe Bryant don't look at every game as a critical game to win. That being said, I think when the PO's roll around, their mindset will more mirror Kobe's always mindset. The regular season is so long and tiresome and the PO's are a series of games (no back-to-back) with one opponent that can be prepared for. We will be ready! Kobe will see to that! Cage the Wolves tonight, just for the fun of it!

Love had 37 points and 23 rebounds in their win against Golden State. Love is 5 games away from breaking Malone's record of 51 double doubles in a row. The streak started after the game against us where he shot 0-7. The streak must end tonight! Malone was once a Laker (OK briefly and not so successfully). Keep the Mailman in the record books!

I am a Lakerholic.


Posted by: Lakerholic | March 01, 2011 at 12:52 PM
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Another reason to play hard tonight!

GO LAKERS!

OK Justanothermambafan things are aout to turn back into a pumpkin.

I think it is Moses' record Love is chasing.


LA Lakers 2009-2010 Back-to-Back NBA Champions

"Seems like for everyone on the team not named Kobe Bryant don't look at every game as a critical game to win.
Posted by: D(erek)J(eter) | March 01, 2011 at 01:26 PM "

Why do you say that? I don't see that at all.

i thought it was moses malones record Klove was chasing and not Karl Malones??

in reading the posts for the past couple of weeks, i have come to the conclusion that there appears to be two very distinct attitudes manifesting from the posts. i will call them vertical and horizontal laker junkies. the vertical ones, i think are more than likely also into the fantasy leagues. they are concerned about NOW. they are numbers oriented, they are thinking about what needs to be done asap. then there are the horizontals. they look at process, and are not so quick to want to trade players. when things go wrong they say calm down, when go well, they say calm down. there are no value judgements here, they are both great and very much needed.

I like Corey Brewer, but there are only so many slices in a pie. Traditionally, Phil has not shown much inclination to incorporate late season acquisitions. The notable exception was Pau, who is an exceptionally notable player. Players like Jim Jackson, Ira Newble, and Joe Smith have been virtually ignored by PJ after the Lakers acquired them. As the playoffs come around, Phil is going to shorten his rotation. Brewer would probably play meaningful minutes only in the event of an injury to Barnes or Artest. I doubt if Phil would even give Corey minutes at Luke's expense.

"i thought it was moses malones record Klove was chasing and not Karl Malones??

Posted by: andand | March 01, 2011 at 02:04 PM "

Yes, it is Moses.

"i thought it was moses malones record Klove was chasing and not Karl Malones??

Posted by: andand | March 01, 2011 at 02:04 PM "

Yes, it is Moses.

Posted by: Bay to LA | March 01, 2011 at 02:22 PM
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Another very goos=d reason to play very hard tonight!

GO LAKERS!

It is a sad sign of the time that ANYONE would make anything out of a lousy 4 game win streak. Has the standard fallen so low for a World Championship team? Maybe somebody should ask a San Antonio Spurs fan how much he is impressed with a 4-g win streak? Or a Heat fan. Or a Celtics fan. BFD! Don't know about anybody else but it would take a 10-game win streak for me to get rid of the bad taste in my mouth from the loss at CLE by itself. Sheesh.

No sooner than somebody get overly excited and exuberant over the paltry 4 game streak that LAL is likely to come up with another stinker and lose to Minnesota due to complacency -again.

@you can't be serious- Retarded stats? What's so retarded about them? They're not inflated, manipulated or erroneous. What's so retarded.

The reason Chandler's been traded are for several reasons, The Clips traded him on draft to Chicago, Chicago let him go because of injuries, New Orleans traded him because they were strapped for cash, Charlotte traded for the same reason. Injuries, cash, etc.

As far as him being a force? Didn't use that word, you can't be serious. Opinions are like noses, everyone's got one, I think Chandler is a formidable defender.


And don't think you can disrespect me, you're messing with the wrong bull!!!

I think Chandler left New Orleans as a FA, though not completely sure.

Excuses, excuses, excuses...

REST: The San Antonio Spurs are a lot older so why don't they need so much rest to compile the BEST record in the league and left LAL in the dust? The Celtics are not spring chicken either and also older than LAL and look at their record. And if the LAL were tired and needed rest guess whose fault it was. Whose fault it was to NOT used all available personnel at disposal and instead drove the valuable starters such as Pau and Kobe into the ground with heavy minutes.

ANGER OVER LOSING: Sorry but I don't buy it. Did I miss it when Kobe smashed a TV, or Artest kicked a camera guy or Bynum tore down the locker room? It is highly ILLOGICAL that anybody would be mad from a bad result if they gave lazy effort to start with. Because that would be an expected result.

FRONT LINE MAKING ITS PRESENCE KNOWN: Why now? why wait half a season to make itself known? Oh it's because it was lazy and complacent and did not think the first half of the reg season was worth sweating over. Maybe, just maybe now that they realize they only have half a season to plug the holes and right the Titanic so there's some renewed urgency?

MORE DELIBERATE PACE: Why now? same as above.

Of course it would have helped the last two items if LAL has had a more active and assertive coach who does NOT coddle and spoil rotten his players with excuses and touchy-feely Zen crap...

We go for one more win in a row tonight! That's all this team can handle right now.

I am hopeful they will focus on every team and win out, although that seems a bit optimistic, of course. Their next 8 games will really tell a lot about whether this team can get it done come April/May-maybe/June?!? If you examine the remaining schedule there are no games they can coast on and should have a decent chance at winning out if they play within their talent and sets. Some other team can get hot in one game which is unavoidable, but the Lakers have a set team that should never let down until July! If they put out 48 minutes of effort every night, then we should see a true vision of what they can do towards a 3-peat.

@youcan'tbeserious- I'm not trying to start a fight. Retarded stats, that don't fly with me, disrespect opinion, you disrespecting me. Any GM in the league would not turn down the chance to grab Chandler in a dispersal draft. He's beasted everywhere he's gone and has only been on a not top 10 defensive a couple of times. Experts huh, experts will tell you he's the main reason why Dallas is a legit contender, and don't say Dirk, playoffs win through rebounding and defense, two areas Chandler shines.

@LRob- I was bein rhetorical about who's guarding Kobe. LOL. I know it's Marion. And my question again, who's stopping Black Mamba? LOL.

Celebrate who's celebrating? I'll celebrate when luke walton retires.

Ring,Ring.... Ring.... Hey Kurt, Mitch, tell me about Corey Brewer....Wats good Mitch...Brewer, hard worker, country boy, will definitely help you win... Ok, wats his agents #?

You guys talking about Tyson Chandler? I've been keeping my eye on him since his freshman year of high school. He's solid and a good pick up for any team. Was happy when NO didn't have him anymore... CP3 + Chandler = nightmare for poor pick n roll defending team.

He wouldn't make a franchise, but he can add a lot of value

Came across this earlier. Are the Clippers being disrespectful or are they just plain ignorant?

http://tinyurl.com/483m7kk

I think AOL was a bit short sighted on this one. The Clippers had 12 of their 14 games in February on the road due to their Grammy roadtrip. The other 2 games, veruse Chicago and Boston, were probably sellouts. So it would be difficult to run a promotion giving tickets to 1000 underpriveleged kids in February to properly correspond with Black History Month.

I know that Donald Sterling has taken flak in the past for his percieved insensitivity along racial lines. But, I don't see it here. I think including such a large number of children at a Clippers game should be saluted. It's easy to nitpick and find fault.

My bad - I saw Malone and assumed... ;-)

Skip Bayless from ESPN First Take said that Bynum and Lakers are scared of Kendrick Perkins.

Just wanted to put it out there since he is not in the proximity for me to hurl a #2 pencil at his wrinkly leather satchel face.

peace

@Tim-4-show- thank you. While I think Chandler's a better low post defender, in the minority, my message was essentially he makes his presence know on defensive efficiency wherever he goes, effective and a soldier. Thanks for your opinion, Tim, always appreciated.

I read your comment before reading the link and thought 'what, are they supposed to change the month or something?" LOL - so they want to actually have fans benefit from the promotion and this is a bad thing?

I still think he should be stopped!!! I think it would be fitting if his record that was started after not being able to score against us ends the same way. No Love!

Oops....s/b VERSUS Chicago and Boston in my last comment.

You can always count on Skip Brainless to say something stupid

Psycorp - I wasn't celebrating. I was merely pointing out there were a lot of good and tangible things the Lakers has done since the All-Star break

Celebrate who's celebrating? I'll celebrate when luke walton retires.

Posted by: yellofever | March 01, 2011 at 03:11 PM
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RTFLMAO!!!!!!!!!!!

@Tim-4-Show....

I can't find fault with giving away 1000 free tickets to kids and their parents, no matter what month of the year it is. If you look hard enough, you can find fault with anything. Sometimes it's best not to look.

BTW....Skip Brainless....very funny!!!

People always talk alot about the Lakers not playing hard. If the Lakers are losing, they are not meeting the other team's energy level, they don't want it, they don't work hard enough.


But that is not it. It is about playing SMARTER. Knowing your role on both ends and executing. Play at the right pace, not rushing things. Run the offense. Share the ball. Play inside out. Be in the right position defensively. Help your teammates. Help the helper.


It's about execution, putting the team first, playing the right way. I don't think the Lakers played harder the last four games. They just played right.


It's hard to do when you are overconfident, and bored, and wanting to pad stats, and show off, and take the easy way out. It takes a real mental FOCUS. But when the Lakers focus and play the right way (see: playoffs) they are a tough team to beat.

Skip Bayless thinks the Lakers are scared of Kendrick Perkins? How does this guy have a job?

Posted by: Tom Daniels | March 01, 2011 at 03:40 PM

That was a really good comment, Tom! I dare say Friedman-worthy!

@LRob- I was bein rhetorical about who's guarding Kobe. LOL. I know it's Marion. And my question again, who's stopping Black Mamba? LOL.
Posted by: Sean | March 01, 2011 at 02:58 PM
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Sean – I got it. But you can say that about any team right?

@Bronx – Regarding the Clipper promotion. Anytime you’re doing something good…its positive. Albeit, they probably shouldn’t have called it a BHM promotion.


@lance from da bronx – interesting observation. Which group are you?

@LRob- yep.

MM - OK, you're not celebrating but I still somewhat disagree with "... there were a LOT of good and tangible things the Lakers has done since the All-Star break"

I wouldn't characterize what they have done all of four games as LOT. Now if you say that after they had won 8+ games then I would tend to agree.

At this point I have lost all faith that LAL are capable of maintain their focus and intensity for more than a few games. How many times during the first half we thought the team has turned a corner then BOOM came a losing stretch of stinkers.

Here's hoping that they can right the ship with the correct attitude for a successful second half but everyone from players to fans should realize that the first half has been a disappointment and a dismal failure totally unfitting for a two-time champion with the biggest payroll in the league.



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