Dwight Howard's arrival has left Lakers fans giddy. But they shouldn't… ( Kevork Djansezian / Getty…)
The topic went away for one season, but that's only because the Lakers opened last year's training camp with a new coaching staff, a rejected Chris Paul deal and without Lamar Odom.
In other recent seasons, though, the Lakers had just come off an NBA championship. During those times, talk surfaced on whether the Lakers could surpass the Chicago Bulls' 72-victory regular-season record that Michael Jordan and his strong supporting cast set in the 1995-96 campaign. With the Lakers acquiring Steve Nash and Dwight Howard this off-season, Lakers fans and even Metta World Peace in a radio interview brought the subject up again.
The prospect sounds tantalizing. But as with the Lakers' past championship teams, they soon conceded that such an approach didn't seem logical. First, it's presumptuous to assume the Lakers will win next year's title. Several in the media, including yours truly, believe they're the favorite. But the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City return with the same core rosters that carried them to last year's NBA Finals.
As talented as they are on paper, the Lakers could encounter several pitfalls that would prevent them from winning their last game of the season. Will Howard, Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and World Peace find the right cohesion on offense? Will the Lakers' bench provide enough talent that the starters can rest for the playoffs? Will Coach Mike Brown have control of the team without micromanaging? Can the veteran-laden roster stay healthy?
All of these issues stand in the way of surpassing Chicago's record. Brown would need to play Bryant and Nash heavy minutes to grind out close games. Players would have to fight through nagging injuries. The Lakers would need intense practices to minimize the chance of an upset. Should they accomplish the goal, though, it's likely they would enter the postseason with wobbly knees, oxygen masks and little energy left.
Instead, the Lakers need to take the opposite approach. They need to respect the regular season so they're fully developed once the playoffs start. That means the Lakers should use training camp and the beginning of the season to work out roles in the Princeton and pick-and-roll offense instead of just going through nonstop conditioning drills. Brown should figure out the right reserve combinations. When they have double-digit leads or deficits, the Lakers should see them as opportunities to ice the bags early. When they have multiple days between games, the Lakers should take a day off to clear their minds.
It's always a tightrope walk. In past seasons, the Lakers used the pacing required of an 82-game season as a shield for mailing in games and lacking focus. But that's when they felt unbeatable. By falling in the Western Conference semifinals for two consecutive seasons, the Lakers discovered they're vulnerable. With their championship window closing, they'll respect the process enough to salvage this opportunity.
In the Lakers' case, championships will always remain the sole indicator in evaluating a successful or failing season.
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