Friday, in detailing the shortcomings of the Lakers on the offensive side of the ball over the season's first 65 games, I noted they still had the time and talent to turn things around. And while victories over the Raptors Tuesday night and Phoenix on Friday weren't exactly dominant (though in regards to the Suns game, you won't find me in the crowd complaining about any missing style points), they certainly marked steps in the right direction when it comes to scoring.
Consecutive games with outputs ahead not only of this year's 106 points per 100 possessions, but also last year's mark of 109.8 (all numbers via HoopData.com). Granted, neither opponent qualifies as a defensive juggernaut (or "juggerprettygood" for that matter), but beggars can't be choosers. It's a positive sign. Moreover, the Lakers will have a chance to continue finding their proverbial flow over their next four games, all against some of the league's weakest sisters: At Golden State and Sacramento, then Minnesota and Washington at home.
The Wizards, 11th worst in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency through Saturday's game, are the stoutest of the bunch. Beating down the beaten down won't automatically solve season-long problems, but allows for adequate time to grease the wheels ahead of a mettle testing, March-ending road trip through San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston, New Orleans, and Atlanta.
In one man's opinion, at least, these four games could provide the team their best uninterrupted chance to establish the rhythm they need before the playoffs.
Phil Jackson, however, isn't him. He refused at practice Sunday afternoon in El Segundo to go that far.
"We're looking at every game right now as a mark point of finding a place to go out, and push a game to its limits, see what we can accomplish in a game, hold a lead, provide bench support, do the right things and maximize our efforts in an individual night, rather than looking out ahead," he said. Jackson said he likes to group games together in an effort to break down the season for his players, but put the short road trip starting tomorrow against in Oakland with games from last week.
"We'll cover the rest when we get back from this short road trip," he said.
Assuming the Lakers can take care of business, Jackson said the act of winning, beyond questions of execution and quality play, has its own value. "I think in this game, I think it's pretty obvious that momentum itself carries you. Sometimes it's the momentum of playing well, the expectation of going out and playing well. I thought Dallas won a couple games just on momentum in that streak that they just completed," he said.
"What we're seeking is to build momentum to get into that position to get a run and get some momentum in the season."
If the team's collective execution is to get over the hump, one thing that'll certainly help would be a revived Pau Gasol. Early in Friday's win, IM-ing with Andy neither of us was particularly impressed with Gasol's work. He still seemed sluggish and out of rhythm. In the second half, though, something sparked the big Spaniard. Maybe it was a look at some film, or encouragement from teammates. Maybe it was a refreshing swig of Gatorade. Whatever the cause, over the final 24 minutes Gasol was a far more effective player, busting up and down the floor, starting the break with solid defensive plays, and utilizing few moves by the basket with success not seen enough over the past few weeks.
The final line- seven-of-11 shooting, plus nine rebounds- wasn't his most eye-popping, but was solid, and Jackson noted the jump in Gasol's performance after the break. "Much better. The first half, I thought he was loose. He shot his free throws poorly, which he's not known to do. He's one of the better free throw shooting guys in the league as far as big guys go. But he regrouped and came back and played well.
He also whacked Louis Amundson across the face as Phoenix's pony-tailed energy guy tried to finish at the basket. The foul sent Suns coach Alvin Gentry into a full-blown tirade, earning him two quick technicals and an ejection. This on the heels of Gasol's flagrant foul against Dwight Howard in last Sunday's loss to Orlando.
So has Pau been asked to bring the pain?
"We've asked him to be firm. We have not asked him to give flagrant fouls at all, but we're asking him not to give up three-point plays, and be physical when the time comes," Jackson said. "I don't know if that's having a play in this or not, but I don't think we're going to change the demeanor of him. He means well, and is a solid, friendly guy and that goes with his personality quite well. So we're just asking him to, when you have to give a foul, give a hard foul."
The goal, though, isn't to go too far outside the rules.
"I don't like flagrant fouls. I like to see hard fouls, to see a guy's arm pinned so they can't get the shot up."