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Lakers' development proves more important than wins

January 18, 2012 |  8:57 pm

One of the biggest dichotomies greets the Lakers when they start a two-game trip against the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic on Thursday.

It has nothing to do with Coach Mike Brown's feelings -- or lack thereof -- about coaching against Heat forward LeBron James. It has nothing to do with whether the Lakers should remain satisfied with Andrew Bynum or covet Magic center Dwight Howard. It has everything to do with how the Lakers (10-5) develop.

Bynum said the Lakers need at least one win in the Lakers' two-game set that begins Thursday at Miami (9-4). Guard Derek Fisher said the back-to-back set provides "two good tests for us." And Brown went into cliche mode when he said he sees every game as equally important.

The reality: The Lakers' postseason success won't hinge on which seeding they earn or how many wins they accumulate. It will turn more on how quickly the Lakers develop and how healthy they remain. 

The health part remains hard to chart considering Kobe Bryant's ability to play through a torn ligament in his right wrist and because no one knows whether Bynum will avoid another injury. So we're left to analyze how the Lakers are developing.

"We're a big-time work in progress," Fisher said. "We're still trying to develop and create what our identity will be as a team that plays for Coach Mike Brown."

Earning a win against Miami or Orlando would show that the Lakers can contend with a playoff-caliber team. A win would improve the Lakers' 1-4 road record. But neither game will provide much clarity about the Lakers' incomplete identity. 

At least, not anymore than what we've seen. That's because there are remarkable statistical similarities in the Lakers' wins and losses, includng points per game (94.1, 91.6), shooting percentage (46.6%, 44.1%), rebounds (46.4, 44.4) and assists (21.4, 23.3). There is a steep difference in the Lakers' wins and losses in three-point field goal percentage (28.7%, 17.9%), but neither statistic looks impressive.

The Lakers show their success mostly relies on defense when you measure the points per game given up in wins (99.2) and losses (84.5). But it's necessary to consider these variables in the Lakers' games against Utah (inexperience), New York (bad offensive chemistry), Memphis (no Zach Randolph) and Dallas (fatigue). Meanwhile, Bryant's four-game stretch in which he scored at least 40 points and Derek Fisher's game-winner against the Mavericks temporarily masked the Lakers' poor offense. And the Lakers hardly resembled their normal roster in the first four games without Bynum.

Adding two games to that small sample size might give the Lakers more answers. But not many.

"We could lose and do a lot of things right and play well, but it just wasn't our night or something like that," Brown said. "We could win and we could get lucky winning. We could hit shots out of our behind all over the place the whole time, and they could just be off. And I'd be just as hard on our guys if we win a game like that and we didn't do things the right way on both ends of the floor. I'd be just as tough on them as if we lost." 


Andrew Bynum downplays comparisons with Dwight Howard

Mike Brown hopes to lower Kobe Bryant's minutes

 Mike Brown sees Kobe Bryant's scoring as short-term fix

-- Mark Medina
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