Improved Meeks making his team proud

SACRAMENTO -- Not that any awards should be handed out to anyone on a Los Angeles Lakers team that fell to a dreadful 25-50 with a 107-102 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday -- no need to pile on to the participation trophies trying to strip the competitiveness out of youth sports these days -- but specialized titles can still apply.

Biggest disappointment? That's easily Kobe Bryant, as Father Time won this round with him, limiting the 35-year-old to only six games when a fractured knee was the latest injury to strike his left leg after his torn Achilles.

Most entertaining? Again, that's an easy answer, as Nick “Swaggy P” Young has become a fan favorite with his patented four-point plays (he had another against the Kings, his seventh of the season), outlandish outfits and memorable quotes.

Most improved? Well, that's not so cut and dried. As bad as the season has been for the Lakers, the underlying saving grace has been that several players have proven to be better than their reputations.

Both Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly have grown in leaps and bounds since training camp. Both Kent Bazemore and Kendall Marshall were acquired during the season as untested commodities and showed that they belonged in the league. Jordan Hill, Xavier Henry and Wesley Johnson all gave glimpses of the tremendous talents that made them lottery picks out of college.

But no one embodies a total improvement in his game, from top to bottom, quite like Jodie Meeks.

It was on display against the Sacramento Kings. On a night when the Lakers shot only 38.5 percent from the field, Meeks was the lone starter to shoot better than 50 percent, going 8-for-15 en route to a team-high 21 points.

"I think Jodie is ... he's good," Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game, breaking into a genuine smile. "He's got a lot better and he keeps improving, too. There's something he gives you every day, something that's a little different. And his energy. I'm just really proud of him."

Young, the only player other than Meeks on the Lakers' roster to score 40 points in a game this season, also used the word "proud" to describe how he feels about the fifth-year shooting guard.

"He finds a way to get his shot off," Young said. "He's got backdoor [cuts]. He's got that consistent jump shot. He's been knocking down 3s all year. ... He's unbelievable. We're all proud of him. It would have been better if we would have been winning with what we're doing, but he's still going out there and playing his best, playing his heart out."

If Meeks had to be proud of anything, it should be his consistency.

He's the Lakers' third-leading scorer at 15.3 points per game. He scored in double digits in all 15 games he played in January. After turning his ankle and playing only one minute against Minnesota on Feb. 4, he followed that up with eight straight games in double digits. When he had another one-game lull, shooting just 3-for-11 for seven points in the Lakers' embarrassing 48-point loss to the Clippers, Meeks followed that up with an 11-game streak that was snapped against the Trail Blazers on Tuesday when he scored four points on 2-for-7 shooting. He got right back on the horse Wednesday.

"I think the challenge is just mental," Meeks said when asked what it takes to be as consistent as he has been this season. "You're not always going to be in the best flow from game to game, and every game is different, so just keeping your mind right and then when you get your opportunities, try to capitalize on them."

He also has improved dramatically in terms of his leadership. With the Lakers having so many nights like Wednesday this season with no Bryant, no Steve Nash and no Pau Gasol in the lineup, Meeks often times has found himself setting the example instead of following it.

"I think I've been pretty positive given our circumstances," Meeks said. "I could have easily not been positive, but I just tried to play hard every night no matter what the circumstances are and show some leadership, some veteran leadership."

Now the question for Meeks is whether the Lakers will be the beneficiary of all that improvement moving forward, or if he'll bring his shooting stroke and reliable outlook somewhere else when he becomes a free agent this summer.

"Definitely, I want to stay, but it's a business," Meeks said. "So, both sides of the party, it will be interesting to see what happens. ... I'll just kind of play the waiting game."

There was Meeks already setting out an area to improve upon in the offseason: his patience.