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NBA

Another depth charge

Lakers are good, but we still don't know how good

November 26, 2008|MARK HEISLER | ON THE NBA

It has definitely been an amazing season around here. Well, an amazing four weeks anyway.

Not that there hasn't been a disappointment or two for hard-core fans, who hoped the Lakers could be unbeaten going into the Christmas game against the Boston Celtics.

Now even Vic the Brick understands the Lakers aren't likely to get 80 wins.

For one thing, there's that Feb. 5 game in Boston . . . and the one three days later in Cleveland.

They also have two games at Houston. Of course, aside from that, there doesn't appear to be anyone on the schedule the Lakers can't handle.

I learned all this in my last visit to the rubber room where they keep radio's Loose Cannons, from either Vic or Mychal Thompson. Everyone yells so much, it's hard to tell which of them has lost it at any given time.

In the real world, there's an interesting question:

What would this Lakers team be like if it was really playing well?

In the first 13 games, they played well in a handful: The first two against Portland and the Clippers; the 111-82 rout of Houston; the win in New Orleans in which they led by 21 points at halftime; the wipeout in Phoenix in which Kobe Bryant was eight for 23 and they still ran up an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter.

Of course, they won 12 of the 13.

The pieces fit so well, a reasonable effort has meant a double-digit victory. If they put two good quarters together, they ran up 20-point leads.

A year ago, with Andrew Bynum hurt and Pau Gasol arriving to take his place, the Lakers had the No. 4 offense and the No. 19 defense.

Now with Bynum back, they have the No. 1 offense and the No. 5 defense.

Their point differential is 13 a game. The No. 2 team is Cleveland at 8.2.

Of course, when the Lakers aren't rolling over good teams, the ones they are psyched for, they've been waltzing opponents around for a quarter or two, as they did with the New Jersey Nets on Tuesday night before burying them, 120-93.

"I think we're still quite a ways away from playing with the kind of fluid rhythm it takes for us to play," said Coach Phil Jackson before the game, prophetically.

"I think we're playing kind of herky-jerky, spotty games right now. . . .

"The big key for us is not losing attention, having those spells where we get either overconfident or lackadaisical."

They had another of those spells Tuesday night, otherwise known as the first quarter in which the Nets scored 28 points and shot 52%.

Five minutes into the third quarter, it was 66-66. Unfortunately for the Nets, if the Lakers don't outscore you, shut you down, or both, they can still overwhelm you with numbers.

"I think probably the one thing they take from the Boston series, they had to get better defensively," said Nets Coach Lawrence Frank before the game.

"Maybe they had to get tougher a little bit. And they were going to have to rebound the ball. And [now] you see those areas.

"Offensively, with the skill level they have, with the ball movement and the player movement and with the depth they have, they're going to score enough points."

The Lakers scored 120 Tuesday night. Sure enough, it did the trick.

Nevertheless, in a development widely overlooked around here, the Lakers aren't even to Thanksgiving. If no one ever won an NBA title in April, March, February, January or December, it's all the more true for November.

Even in Chicago, a Bulls theocracy in the '90s, they didn't start talking about 70 wins until the team got to 50 or so.

These days, we do the implications before the fact but here's all we know so far: The Lakers are definitely good. How good, they have all season to demonstrate.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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