It's been a hectic 5 weeks for the Lakers after hiring Mike D'Antoni in place of Mike Brown and Bernie Bickerstaff as their head coach. D'Antoni was pretty much thrown into a blaze of fire expected to extinguish it with a bottle of water. But he's getting to it.
While the team is still miles away from becoming a unit consistent with everything necessary to be a championship-caliber team, as they recently displayed against the Bobcats, the Lakers are beginning to develop their defensive identity. Perhaps the chorus of those thunderous boos from the Staples Center crowd during the 3rd quarter against the same Charlotte team pushed them into it or it could have been the constant demand of D'Antoni to keep playing aggressive defense no matter what the numbers are on the scoreboard.
Whatever the case, it's no longer Dwight Howard or Metta World Peace out on the floor making things happen on that end of the court.
Kudos to Jodie Meeks and Darius Morris for taking pride and understanding how crucial it is to keep themselves in front of their man. Meeks has actually been working hard from becoming a one-trick pony. He's been attacking the rim, pushing the ball up the floor and doing everything he can to make sure his single coverage is helping the team win. He's been playing so well on both baskets that D'Antoni is already considering inserting him into the starting lineup pushing Kobe Bryant into the small forward position.
Same goes with Morris. His defense on Kemba Walker was probably his best defensive effort of the season, but he was already improving in that department against Washington and Philadelphia. He's done so much on defense lately that even Kobe had noticed it. Chris Duhon is their best defensive point guard on paper. Who knows? It's possible he could take over the reigns if he continues to work hard at it.
Offensively, I like how D'Antoni continues to find the right combination of players to give them the best unit on the floor that will give them energy and scoring punch inside and outside. I'm still not a fan of his preference of not allowing Pau Gasol have his share of touches in the box, but he's definitely not resting on anything until he knows how to best utilize his players.
The way D'Antoni talks about Gasol, it's possible that he prefers the Big Spaniard on offense more than Howard. But at the same time, he understands that Dwight is the future cornerstone of the team. So he's in a situation where he has to figure out how to keep both bigs involved without alienating Howard. But this isn't all on D'Antoni to make it work.
Gasol will need to adapt to how D'Antoni wants to run his offense. It's a good bet that both Pau and Dwight won't be seen on the floor together for long stretches unless the opposing team is having a tough time stopping the combination on the floor or the inside game for them is working much better than their perimeter game. It all depends on the situation it looks like. But generally, D'Antoni prefers to have speed and outside shooting on the floor at all times if he could get away with it.
This 3-game winning streak may have come from 3 of the worse teams in the league, but no one is looking at these wins as any indication that the Lakers have arrived to where they need to be. Since the days of Brown, the Lakers have been trying to learn how to win together. Injuries and coaching changes all but stopped that from coming along.
The end product of what the team will eventually become is still up in the air. But at least now, the Lakers are finding the crumbs back to the path they lost.
It's just a matter of time until they find it together.