Heading into Friday's contest with the Utah Jazz, the Los Angeles Lakers were a dismal 2-10 in January and looked nothing like the Laker teams we were used to seeing year in and year out.
The Lakers played great against a solid Jazz squad, and won by 18 points. This had many Laker fans saying, "Where has that been all season?"
Then Sunday comes along and the Lakers welcome the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder to the Staples Center. A Thunder team that beat the Lakers handily two weeks prior. Instead of laying another egg, the Lakers played what has been their best all-around game of the season and beat the Thunder, 105-96.
These past two games have given me one last gasp of optimism that the Lakers can put together a second half push and enter the playoff picture. Although most people have given up hope, here is why Laker fans should not completely lose hope, yet.
The Lakers defense the past two games has been what most people expected all year. They were active, did not miss many rotations and were outstanding on the boards. In the past two games they have out-rebounded the Thunder and Jazz by a combined 17 rebounds. The Lakers had been getting killed on the offensive boards during their most recent losing streak, but limited the Thunder to 10 and the Jazz to nine. The Lakers gave up 16 offensive boards in a recent loss to Memphis and 14 to the Bulls.
Although I wouldn't expect to see Kobe Bryant have more assists than shot attempts like he has in the past two wins, the "new look" Kobe has shown us what can happen when Kobe defers more to his teammates. Kobe has displayed his excellent passing ability these past two games, finding the open player when the double team approaches and has found Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard on the break for easy dunks and layups. He still showcased his deadly arsenal of scoring abilities during the fourth quarter of the Thunder game, as he hit two jump shots to seal the Laker victory.
The Lakers also had one of their most balanced scoring games of the season against the Thunder. Dwight Howard had one of his worst games offensively as he was plagued by foul trouble and poor free throw shooting (2-10), but the slack was picked up by the Laker bench. They outscored the Thunder bench, 33-17. In all, the Lakers had six players in double figures.
The Lakers upcoming schedule is another reason to remain optimistic. The Lakers next four games are against teams with worse records than their own, although three of them are on the road where the Lakers have struggled mightily this season. The Lakers then face a tough couple games with the Brooklyn Nets and the Rondo-less Celtics, before finishing their first half of the season with games at Miami and a home game against the cross town rival Clippers.
It's not unrealistic that the Lakers could be .500 or .500-plus going into the matchup with Miami, who the Lakers normally play well against. So Laker fans, fasten your seat belts and hold on to your seat as the Lakers enter this important stretch of the season.