This article was initially published in the “Lakers Insider” on March 15. Please sign up for the “Lakers Insider” at http://www.nba.com/lakers/ under Lakers E-News.
By: Josh Tucker
While instability is visible throughout all levels of the NBA right now, the Los Angeles Lakers have managed to remain intact in Los Angeles for over 50 years and under the same ownership for over 30 years. Playing near Hollywood, the Lakers always keep basketball fans entertained. Once again this season, they have been able to put the drama aside and produce championship caliber basketball on the court.
The 2010-2011 season has been a model of personal achievement and team realization. Five years removed from his record setting 81-point performance, Kobe Bryant has assaulted the NBA’s all-time scoring list, catapulting past Hall of Famers Moses Malone (27,409), Elvin Hayes (27,313) Hakeem Olajuwon (26,946), Oscar Robertson (26,710), Dominique Wilkins (26,668) and John Havlicek (26,395). The only remaining players ahead of Bryant on the all-time list are Shaquille O’Neal (5th/28,590), Wilt Chamberlain (4th/31,419), Michael Jordan (3rd/32,292), Karl Malone (2nd/36,928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1st/38,387). Among the top six scorers in NBA history, all but Michael Jordan have sported Lakers purple and gold.
Despite spraining his elbow against the Charlotte Bobcats on March 4, Lakers “Iron Man” Derek Fisher, has played in 481 consecutive regular season games, the longest consecutive games streak among all active NBA players. In addition, this Lakers team has quietly amassed a league-leading nine wire-to-wire victories, bettering last season’s regular season total of seven in only 39 games. The most striking of those victories came against the Cavaliers, when the Lakers came within a basket of doubling Cleveland’s point total in a 112-57 win. The 55-point margin of victory was the third largest in Lakers franchise history as well as the largest league-wide since 1998.
After a turbulent first half of the season — which saw the Lakers open 8-0, their third best start in franchise history, and concluded with a three-game losing streak in Orlando, Charlotte and Cleveland – the team has looked recharged since Kobe Bryant’s 37-point, 14-rebound MVP performance in the All-Star Game. With a new focus and dedication to defense, the Lakers won eight straight games after the All-Star break against some of the league’s premier teams — including San Antonio, Atlanta (twice), Oklahoma City, and Portland. Their statement victory against the league leading San Antonio Spurs proved to be one of their best performances of the season. Sparked by a complete team effort, the Lakers handed the Spurs their worst home halftime deficit in franchise history (28 points).
In what is likely the final season before Phil Jackson abdicates his throne over Laker Land, the team will look to send the “Zen Master” off in an appropriate manner. Every time Phil Jackson has won two championships he has reclaimed his crown atop the basketball “court” by winning a third straight championship (with the Bulls in 1991-93 and 1996-98 and with the Lakers in 2000-02). A championship in 2011 will not only further solidify Phil Jackson’s mythical legacy, but it will also fuel the Michael Jordan – Kobe Bryant comparison. Jordan won six championships under Coach Jackson, a number Bryant will try to equal in June. The Lakers leader on the court has continued his scoring consistency, now scoring over 1,500 points in 11 consecutive seasons, marking the longest such streak by an NBA player since Karl Malone reached that milestone in 12 straight seasons (1986-87 to 1997-98).
With Andrew Bynum healthy, the team has finally found its stride. In eleven games since the All-Star break, Bynum has averaged 11.9 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks, while shooting a team best 62% from the field. Bynum’s biggest impact on the game, however, is not completely visible when staring at the stat sheet. He has anchored the Lakers defense, not just clogging the middle, but also challenging outside jump shots with his dominant wingspan. In eleven games since the All-Star break, only once have the opponents passed the 100-point mark, while the opposition has been kept near 40% shooting from the field. The Lakers’ strength relies on synergy, and when five or more Lakers players score in double-figures the team is a staggering 26-3. The whole is unquestionably greater than the sum of its parts.
With the Lakers firing on all cylinders, the team once again seems primed for a deep playoff push. With a healthy roster, experienced leadership and a renewed focus on defense, the Lakers faithful once again hope to see a celebration in Downtown Los Angeles this June.