Lakers’ switch; Trade deadline winners and losers; Pistons revolt
By Michael Brown, Sentinel
Sentinel Sports Writer
Have the Lakers Turned on “The Switch?”
That seems to be the question after the Lakers won their first four games after the All-Star break.
During Sunday’s 90-87 win at Oklahoma City, at times, L.A. looked like a team that was playing with more of a sense of urgency. Key stops on the defensive end helped seal the victory for the Lakers, which was M.I.A. two weeks ago during the disastrous loss at Cleveland.
How a team can go from losing to a bottom dweller like Cleveland to blowing out Atlanta and winning at Portland and Oklahoma City is mind boggling.
The Lakers leave themselves open to charges of “coasting until the playoffs” when fans and pundits witness such a difference in the way L.A. approaches different opponents.
So have they turned on the proverbial switch? And if they haven‘t, can they?
I think it’s too early to ask whether the Lakers have turned on the switch. They’ve had hot streaks several times this season, only to suffer humiliating losses to lesser teams, particularly at home. If they lose to Minnesota or Charlotte, the idea of flipping a switch is out the door.
But if the Lakers steamroll the sub .500 teams and then travel to San Antonio this Sunday and emerge with a win, then there may be something to the notion of flipping the switch.
Judging by recent history, the Lakers have shown that they can flip the switch. Last season, L.A. lost seven of its last 11 regular season games, but ended up hoisting the championship trophy.
The winning streak shouldn’t be attributed as much to the notion of flipping the switch, but more credit should be given to the improved and consistent play of Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest.
It’s a given, Kobe will be Kobe and Pau will be Pau. Whether the Lakers close out a three-peat will hinge on contributions made by the supporting cast.
Since the break, Artest is averaging 12.5 points per game and shooting 54 percent from the field. His season averages are eight points and 40 percent shooting.
Bynum’s 16 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks at Oklahoma City were pivotal in the win. He’s averaged 10.8 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game since the break. Bynum has scored less than his season average of 11.8 points, but his improved rebounding and defense have been crucial.
Trade Deadline Winners and Losers
To say that the recent NBA trade deadline was active would be an understatement. In years past, the deadline has usually been filled with tons of speculation, but usually ended with zero moves.
However, that changed this season.
The Knicks were far and away the biggest winner. Acquiring Carmelo Anthony has already bore fruit for New York. During the Knicks impressive, 91-86, win at Miami Sunday, Anthony scored 29 points and gave the Heat all kinds of problems from different spots on the floor.
All of the hype was about Anthony, but Chauncey Billups showed during the Miami game why he’s valuable as well. Billups hit a key basket during the game’s final pivotal moments and made important defensive stops, too.
If the Knicks can play any semblance of defense like their display in Miami, they have a shot at reaching the Eastern Conference Finals this season.
Oklahoma City’s new acquisitions, centers Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed along with point guard Nate Robinson have yet to suit up, but when they do, I expect the Thunder to contend for the Western Conference crown.
With two of the best wing players in the league, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder were missing the type of inside beef teams need in the playoffs, especially when games become more half-court oriented.
The moves elevated the Thunder from a team expected to maybe win a round to a legitimate threat. Their combination of athleticism and size will pose problems for anyone they face.
Portland and Memphis also helped themselves in the west. Portland traded for Gerald Wallace from Charlotte in a salary dump. The move is probably not good enough to help Portland secure one of the conference’s top four seeds, but they have a chance to be a nightmare match up.
Memphis’ acquisition of Shane Battier from Houston didn’t receive much fanfare amid the blockbuster deals; however, he should help solidify a playoff spot for the Grizzlies.
Teams such as the ‘Blazers and Grizzlies should benefit from the conference’s losers. Both teams can grab fifth and sixth spots in the west if squads like Utah and Denver falter after trading marquee players.
Utah trading Deron Williams to New Jersey wasn’t a total loss. The move yielded the Jazz Devin Harris and Derrick Favors. Harris is an All-Star caliber point guard and Favors has enough ability to be a monster one day, but let’s get real, Utah didn’t receive fair value.
Neither did the Nuggets, who received three starters from the Knicks. Both the Jazz and Nuggets ultimately are losers because they’re unlikely going to replace their All-Stars.
And I didn’t think the Celtics trading Perkins was the disaster many of the pundits thought, but the move perplexed me.
No doubt, the Celtics needed a wing and Jeff Green, who they received in the deal, could fill that void. Without Perkins however, Boston is relying on Shaquille O’Neal to play major minutes and contribute.
Five years ago, this would have been a good move, but not now. O’ Neal is in his late 30s and weighs 300-plus pounds. His backup, Jermaine O’Neal, hasn’t been healthy this season.
The Celtics seemingly gave away their size advantage which many think separates them from the rest of the east. Perkins’ reluctance to re-sign with the Celtics probably motivated the move.
“Mutiny” in Motown
When the media entered the Detroit Pistons practice Monday morning, head coach John Kuester was seen throwing passes to veteran guard Richard Hamilton according to reports by the Detroit Free Press.
Everything appeared all good on the surface, albeit if you hadn’t followed the team’s prior 72 hours.
During their Monday interviews, Kuester and Hamilton tried to downplay the Detroit “mutiny” that took place Friday morning. According to reports, Hamilton along with several of his teammates either skipped practice or reported late due to “oversleeping.”
The problems stem from a season-long spat between Kuester and Hamilton, which has resulted in the coach not playing the shooting guard during numerous games. Reportedly, “communication issues” have been at the center of the coach’s feud with several players.
The scene looked really bad Friday when Kuester was ejected from the loss at Philadelphia and Detroit’s Tracy McGrady (no-show for practice) and other players could be seen laughing on the bench.
Looking at that situation from the outside leads me to one conclusion: all sides deserve some blame.
The players deserve blame because the NBA is a professional league. Regardless of how players may feel about a coach, they’re expected to show up and perform. Pulling a stunt like this won’t work from a public relations standpoint ever.
Fair or not, many fans believe that pro athletes are overpaid and spoiled. Detroit’s weekend stunt just reinforced that idea.
The coach and management should share blame, too.
Kuester is clearly in over his head, but Detroit’s shaky ownership situation hasn’t allowed general manager Joe Dumars to remove the coach. It will be interesting to see how the situation plays out for a team that isn’t going to the playoffs with a lame duck coach.
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