A feeling I’ve not felt since…

Earlier this century. That’s the last time I expected to see the Lakers have a shot at winning just about every game they played. While I’m not quite there, I do feel there is a subset of teams in the NBA we are “better” than. The issue has been the young kids playing down or up to their level of competition. Star player out? Rando benchie goes off for 20 points and 7 dimes. Lottery team in the midst of tanking? 22 point blowout. So the story line had been going in recent years.

This year started off much the same. Up to, and including, the 9 game losing streak that culminated with coach Walton and the Lakers addressing reports he had ‘lost the team’ we didn’t play to our level of talent, skill or work ethic. We played down to lower teams and got up big time for the best. I have no idea what changed. Maybe it was the team meeting, maybe it was the media reports and the team not wanting to have to answer questions about their coach, maybe it was LeVar Ball. Who freaking knows or, really, who cares.

The Lakers are playing their best basketball in years. They’re not relying on anyone single player, they’re playing with collective intent. Sure there are breakdowns, and there will continue to be as they grow and the league adjusts, but to see this level of play sustained for most of January into February has been a an absolute blast to watch. Coach Walton has the team playing playoff level defense after we had slipped in December on that end. An improved team-wide effort and the insertion of Josh Hart as a starter over Ennis or Caruso has paid off well on defense. The coaching staff should get some of that credit for making some changes.

Brandon Ingram looked like he was returning to the form we’ve seen in flashes. The form where he scores on a mix of drives, pull ups and catch and shoot opportunities. He made all of his free throws. He had defended well at the rim. He had a game-changing dunk. He canned his three point shots. BI was playing some of his best ball all season last night, definitely worth a look at the highlights.

Josh Hart continued to fill in extremely well at the starting PG position. His second double-double (points and rebounds) as well as some great defense makes him my choice as the back up PG for the foreseeable future. Ennis has been basically terrible all year, Caruso is a G-League level player who will turn in that one great game every once in awhile. Hart shows up every night. He’s canning threes with confidence. He’s bodying up guys and getting in great defensive position (those calls will start to swing his way when he gets more of a defensive rep). In some ways he’s already light years ahead of Lonzo Ball, minus the uncanny vision, but that’s what 4 years of college does for a young player. While I’m under no illusions that Hart is on the verge of stealing Ball’s starting spot I do like how we could have a nice starter/back up progression where we have good to great defenders at the PG spot all game long in the future. Josh Hart: another late first-round diamond unearthed by the Laker scouting department.

Kuzma and Randle both had solid games at the 4, Randle ran into a rough patch in the third where he started turning the ball over by attacking the defense far too aggressively but Luke sat him down to mull it over and got him back in the game down the stretch to help us close it out in style. Kuzma got STAPLES center rocking and rolling with a transition throwdown that could qualify as the dunk of the year. Sometimes Kyle leaves those a little short at the rim…not last night. Epic stuff from the rookie who looks like he’s returning to early season form.

As I said, fun win. Great stuff all around and even the guys who struggled to score (KCP and Clarkson come to mind) found ways to impact the game positively in other ways. We’re one game under .500 at STAPLES. Getting to .500 and pushing past that is a very realistic goal for this team. If we start to approach .500 on the road…look out, NBA, the Lakers are coming for you sooner than expected. Go Lakers.