Lakers power forward Pau Gasol (16) celebrates with point guard Steve Nash… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers gutted out their fifth straight win, defeating the New York Knicks on Christmas Day (100-94).
Now tied for 10th place in the Western Conference, the Lakers are just a half-game behind the seventh-place Minnesota Timberwolves as well as the Denver Nuggets, who are tied for eighth. The Lakers visit Denver on Wednesday with a chance to pass the Nuggets in the standings.
"It was an important win for us. We're a little bit desperate," said Steve Nash of the team's performance Tuesday. "We've got to get on a roll and not only improve as a team, but while we're improving and figuring things out, we need to win some games."
Coach Mike D'Antoni is still experimenting with his rotation. With Metta World Peace moving to the bench (although he started the second half against New York), players like Darius Morris and Jodie Meeks are in consideration as starters with Kobe Bryant sliding to small forward.
World Peace now plays both the three and the four but D'Antoni has also been trying to find minutes for Jordan Hill. Antawn Jamison currently remains on the outside of the rotation as the Lakers try to get quicker on the floor, especially defensively.
Chris Duhon and Morris are getting time in the backcourt as Steve Blake recovers from abdominal surgery.
Naturally D'Antoni is a lot more comfortable with his team now that Nash is back from his leg injury.
"He is good. It just puts everything into perspective and clams everybody down," said D'Antoni of Nash running the offense. "It gives you the chance to win every night. It keeps your energy up on defense because you're not fighting yourself on the other end. You're not being demoralized by things happening there. Everybody is getting the ball and getting into the flow. It feeds and it builds. Just like a snowball it keeps getting bigger. I don't know if he's all of it but he's maybe the last piece that makes it work."
Nash had 16 points and 11 assists against the Knicks along with 12 and nine in the team's previous game against the Golden State Warriors. He's shot 60% from the field in that stretch with three turnovers a game.
The Lakers have been turning the ball over more than almost any team in the league (second now to the Houston Rockets) at 16 a game. Tuesday against the Knicks was an improvement for the team with 12. If the Lakers actually averaged the latter, they'd be second best in the league behind the Knicks at 10.7.
Turnovers have been a big part of the Lakers' defensive failings. The expectation is that Nash will improve both.
Pau Gasol, who has struggled this season with both healthy (knees) and fitting in, sealed the game with dunk.
"I knew we had five or six seconds to go, so I had to be aggressive to get a good shot off," said Gasol. "I didn't want to settle for the shot so I took it right down the lane and finished strong."
Lakers management is still evaluating the talent on the roster but the current core will have the opportunity to prove themselves before any drastic change is made.
"I think we're on the right path," said Gasol. "We're working together. Everybody on the floor is playing together. We're finally getting somewhere. We're getting close to the place that we want to be and the team that we want to be."
Given how poorly the team was playing just a few weeks ago, five wins in a row is a major shift. Finally back to .500, the Lakers still have significant ground to make up in the West.