NBA AM: Lakers Being Forged Under Pressure
Making Us Stronger: In most situations of unrelenting pressure one of two things is going to happen – a hardening and durability will emerge or the subject of the pressure will shatter and break apart or implode on itself.
No team in the NBA has had to endure more unrelenting pressure than the Los Angeles Lakers and with another convincing win under their belts last night in Orlando, the team that seemed poised to fall apart has come together.
“We’ve learned a lot,” Lakers forward Earl Clark told HOOPSWORLD. “When you lose a lot of games, you got to search for answers and look each other in the mirror, and I think we’re just playing well right now on the defensive end. Dwight [Howard] is playing out of his mind and it’s helping us win.”
The Lakers have the All-Stars, so media attention and expectation isn’t exactly new to them, but the manner in which the world has come down on the Lakers has had its impact.
“Obviously for the All-Stars they’ve been around cameras a lot,” explained Lakers forward Metta World Peace. “For the young guys, I’m probably sure they’re just like, ‘Wow.’ Especially the rookies or the one rookie we have. For the most part, you just never know what’s going to happen. As a fan, as media, I’m sure; you wait for things to happen. As players, we just kind of roll with the situations and continue to move forward.”
With last night’s win, the Lakers now find themselves a half a game behind the seventh place Houston Rockets who lost to the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night.
“For us, we got to focus on every single game,” World Peace said. “We can’t even really look that far ahead because we still got guys behind us. We still got teams that’s like half a game behind us, and they’re going to be there for the duration of the season, so we just got to continue to focus on, really, just possession-by-possession with us. We don’t have no room to focus on anything else.”
Clark said that the pressure placed on the team has really brought the locker room together and the fact that everyone was counting them out has helped keep them focused.
“Everybody was against us,” Clark said. “Nobody thought we could make this push so we’re just looking within each other and just playing hard. That’s all we’re doing.
“We just got to continue to engage ourselves on the defensive end. We’re good on offense. You got Hall of Fame players, and just continue to rebound and get stops. That’s all we can do.”
The Lakers find themselves at 34-31 on the season with 17 games left on the season. In that span the Lakers have eight home games and nine road games and will face nine teams with a record of .500 or better. Of the remaining games, the Lakers will see 13 Western Conference teams.
If the playoffs started today, the Lakers would open on the road versus the San Antonio Spurs who have won the season match-up 2-0. The Lakers will host the Spurs in L.A. on April 14 to round out the regular season series.
IN RELATED: Lost in the hype of Dwight Howard’s triumphant return to Orlando was the role that Kobe Bryant played in the process. In the days leading up to last night’s game, Bryant had said he wanted Howard to come in and be dominant; that the way to end the story was to show up in a big way.
Howard got his chance, knocking in 39 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. Howard also hit 25 of his gaudy 39 free throw attempts.
The Magic did everything they could to exploit Howard’s obvious weaknesses, however Howard kept coming and Bryant kept encouraging.
Lost in the hype of Howard, was the lack of Bryant. Kobe was noticeably absent from Lakers shootaround in the morning. He was extremely passive in the game itself.
Bryant wanted his teammate to have the glory. He wanted Howard to have his chance to silence his critics and, more importantly, he wanted Dwight to be the bad guy in a big way.
“I think professionally it was really big for him,” Bryant said of Howard’s night. “Coming into this environment, playing as well as he did, it’s big for his confidence.”
Bryant has been a vocal critic of Howard’s intensity, understanding that for the Lakers to get to where they want to go this season they need Howard to be aggressive. Bryant gave Howard that opportunity last night.
“We believed it was just a matter of time before things got turned around,” explained Bryant. “We had to keep our sense of urgency. A lot of it starts with Dwight, man — him just buying in to what we need him to do and him just excelling at it. His game just has been absolutely on point.”
Howard got to exercise a lot of demons last night in Orlando, and Bryant wanted that to happen. He wanted Dwight to have his moment and the big fella delivered in a huge way for the Lakers and for himself.
It was at the hands of a team with 17 wins, but it was also a big statement about where the relationship stands with Howard and Bryant and how much the two have grown together over the last month or so since the All-Star break.
In case you missed it yesterday – Alex Kennedy broke down Howard’s return to Orlando, which includes some classically funny video of Howard and the hoard of media that turned out to grill him. Yesterday’s NBA PM featured some exclusive video with Lakers guard Steve Nash where he talks about the Laker circus being the “new normal” as well as new Magic forward Tobia Harris, dubbed T-12 by Magic fans, talking about his role in Orlando and the circus environment inside their own locker room.
Only When He’s Ready: On Monday in this space we covered the Derrick Rose situation in Chicago, and at Tuesday’s practice Rose was presented with many of the questions and comments people are making about his status.
“I don’t know [if I’ll play this season],” Rose said to Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun Times. “I’m coming back when I feel normal. If that’s in a couple of days, that’s great. If it’s not, I’m fine.”
The Bulls stance on Rose has been unwavering. Derrick will play when he can be Derrick again. What they do not want is Derrick second guessing his body or feeling like he has to be cautious on the floor.
“I think with any surgery, mentally, you have to get over that hump — that’s what I’m doing,” Rose said. “I’m able to play, but it’s just getting over that hump — I should be fine.
“I think I can do everything [physically]. It’s just me having the confidence to do it. I’m just trying to feel normal. When I’m out there and not thinking and just reacting, that’s when I know I’ll be ready.”
Bulls fans and media have grown frustrated with this process because Rose has been cleared medically to play, a frustration Rose says he shares.
“I’m just like y’all — waiting for that day where I feel normal,” explained Rose. “I haven’t had any pressure form the organization. Nobody’s pushing me to play. My teammates have been great. They’re playing hard for me, still playing hard and fighting. That’s a good sign. And we’re winning games. I’m not worried about anything right now.”
Rose, who is as non-confrontational as they come in the NBA, says he’s not sure where all the stories of disconnect are coming from, but continues to say that he and the Bulls are on the same page and that he’s just working to get his mind and body right.
“Crazy, making up stuff,” Rose said of the reported rift between himself and the Bulls. “Everybody assumes everything. I’m the last person that someone would have a confrontation with. I’m not trying to argue with anyone. Everything’s been great. It’s crazy all the stories that are going on that I know aren’t true.”
On Sunday, Rose revealed that he’d been struggling with hamstring problems, but said yesterday that is just part of the process of getting into game shape.
“They’re coming along,” Rose said. “They’re getting a lot stronger; moving in the right direction. I haven’t taken any steps back. That’s a good thing.”
Rose understands that everyone involved wants to see him back on the court as soon as possible, but said he also didn’t want to risk coming back too early and that the eagerness to return can be a double-edged sword.
“If I would rush back and something was to happen, everybody would say, ‘Why did you rush back?’ So I’m just taking my time and being prepared and knowing when I come back I want to be 100 percent,” Rose said.
The Bulls are 35-28, which is good enough for fifth place in the East. If the playoffs started today, the Bulls would face the Brooklyn Nets in the first round. The Bulls lead the regular season series 2-1 and face Brooklyn on April 4 to round out the series.
The Bulls have 19 games left on their schedule including nine home games and 10 road games. Of the Bulls remaining 19 games, seven are against teams with a record above .500 and 13 of the remaining 19 are against Eastern Conference teams.
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