After a relatively cushy opening part of the season -- take out a 22-point meltdown to the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Nets could be 7-1 right now -- the true tests begin. Tonight, the five-games-deep-into-a-winning-streak Brooklyn Nets take on the not-sure-who's-coaching-tonight-but-way-more-talented Los Angeles Lakers, at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Mike D'Antoni is supposed to coach his first game with the 5-5 Lakers tonight, who fired coach Mike Brown after a rocky start and have won four of five under current interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff.
The Miami Heat are the defending champions, but there's perhaps no team with higher expectations than the Lakers, who boast Steve Nash (injured), Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and center Dwight Howard, who you may have heard of for some weird reason.
To talk about this unique Lakers team, I'm glad to welcome Darius Soriano of ESPN TrueHoop Los Angeles Lakers blog Forum Blue & Gold to The Brooklyn Game. There's perhaps no one in the world that's followed this Los Angeles Lakers team as closely and with such clear-headedness as Darius, and I highly suggest checking out FB&G if you're ever curious about the Lakers.
Darius Soriano on the Los Angeles Lakers
Devin: The Los Angeles Lakers will presumably have their full-time coach Mike D'Antoni ready to go against the Nets. How do you see his vision impacting the Lakers, both against the Nets and long-term?
Darius: Yes, D'Antoni is a "game time decision" (haven't heard that about a coach have you?) but the hope is that he'll be coaching Tuesday night. As for his philosophy, I think we're already starting to see it take hold and that it will likely stay consistent whether the opponent is the Nets or any other team. The Lakers are looking to boost the number of possessions each game in an attempt to let their talent shine through. They want to run -- not just for easy baskets -- to get into their sets faster and generate looks against a defense that isn't yet set. I see this strategy allowing the team to have a more free flowing offense that should keep everyone engaged which will, hopefully, translate to good effort on both sides of the ball and some much needed wins.
Devin: How have Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard looked in tandem?
Darius: So far, Howard is clearly benefitting more from the pairing. Howard is shooting over 65% from the floor when he shares the floor with Pau, but that number dips to a shade over 48% when Pau is on the bench. Gasol has really been spacing the floor well for him and has used his superior passing skills to get Dwight the ball in positions where he can score easily.
For Pau, he's been a bit up and down. When his jumper is falling he looks like the same productive player he's always been. But when it's not, his efficiency drops and he's had to impact the game in ways besides just scoring. He's capable of doing that, but it's not a coincidence that Pau has looked most comfortable when he gets more post touches playing next to Jordan Hill when the reserves start to come into the game.
Overall, though, I'm pleased with how the duo is evolving. Even with a miscommunication here and there (especially on D), they already have a very good chemistry and they're really able to punish teams on the glass with their length and activity. So, you won't catch me complaining about them.
Devin: Statistically, Kobe Bryant is having a red-hot start. Is this a style change, and do you think he can maintain it?
Darius: I think Kobe's play has been the product of being healthy and a shift in his mentality in what types of shots he wants to take. He's nearly abandoned the long two point shot in favor of ones at the rim and from the mid-range. I'm skeptical he'll post an effective field goal percentage 8 points higher than his career high, but I do think he can maintain some semblance of his strong play as the year progresses. In D'Antoni's system he's going to be afforded more space than he's had in some time and will be much harder to double team with so much talent surrounding him. These are the ingredients that allow him to get to the spots on the floor he likes most while pitting him mostly against single coverage. These are ideal circumstances for one of the league's best scorers and, health permitting, I see him continuing to take advantage.