Why Watching This Lakers Team Is so Fun..

(Image/Miami Herald)

There has been a lot of chatter in media circles about the plummeting television ratings for NBA regular season games. While there are a lot of potential hypotheses for lower ratings such as cord-cutting and the like, one thing is for sure: the Los Angeles Lakers are not to blame.

Anyone following the Lakers has surely felt the same thing: this team is fun to watch! When one examines the various aspects of this 2019-2020 team, it becomes clear that the Lakers being fun to watch isn’t just an inexplicable warm-and-fuzzy feeling, it is only logical.

Everyone Loves a Winner, Right?

The Lakers are currently 23-3. They are tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the best record in the NBA. It’s simply more fun to root for or follow a team when there are actual stakes to the outcome of a game beyond the game itself.

With the Lakers being legitimate championship contenders, the stakes for every win and loss are magnified, which makes the whole process of following the team more fun. If winning was the main factor in which to judge the happiness of a fan base, then Laker fans would have to be sky high with Lakers exceptionalism exuding from their very pores.

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(Image/Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Good Team Chemistry

While winning is undoubtedly the biggest ingredient for a successful season, it’s not sufficient in and of itself to make for a fun season. Fortunately for the Laker fan base, the current roster appears to have stellar team chemistry.

On the court, one can see whenever a player gets fouled hard and falls to the floor, multiple teammates rush over to help the teammate up. When any player makes a spectacular play during a game, from LeBron James to Alex Caruso, one can see players on the Lakers bench celebrating demonstrably in unison with genuine happiness for their teammate. Often times, the players celebrating the most are players who aren’t even getting into games and who otherwise might be complaining about lack of playing time.

In the recent Orlando Magic game, forward Jared Dudley took it upon himself to interject into a scuffle involving Dwight Howard leading to his ejection. Dudley only received playing time in this game because forward Kyle Kuzma was held out due to injury. So one might think he’d want to stay in the game at all costs to take full advantage of the playing time he was getting.

To the contrary, after the Orlando game during a post-game interview on Spectrum SportsNet, he stated, “You’ve got to stand up for your guy. Sometimes it’s pushing, sometimes it’s a hard foul, sometime it’s whatever you have to do. I couldn’t really get to him, so I just had to push the pile, make sure everybody moves”. It was selfless. It was for the team.

Off the court, the chemistry doesn’t appear to have diminished any. For instance, at the start of the season, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was off to a poor start, shooting under 40% from the field, air balling layups, and looking lost on the court, especially on the offensive end.

This did not stop Dwight Howard from going onto social media to defend him. Those covering the Lakers seem to feel the good vibes of the chemistry. Team photo’s and videos from practice seem to show how they get along. For example, James posted a video with Davis around his family’s table in the off-season where they shouted “Taco Tuesday!”.

Compare this 2019-2020 squad to “good” Laker teams of the past that were not so fun to watch. For instance, take the 2004 Laker team with Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton. While they lost in the NBA finals to the Pistons in disappointing fashion, it was a good team that did make the NBA finals beating a vintage San Antonio Spurs team along the way.

However, both O’Neal and Bryant made public their dislike for each other. Payton was under fire throughout the season for his play and fit with the team. Coach Phil Jackson had health issues and missed time from coaching.

In 2012, the Lakers started the season with Dwight Howard 1.0, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Pau Gasol. Everyone remembers how the team fell grossly short of expectation, however, they did finish the season at 45-37 and made the playoffs, which is more than what could be said for Lakers teams the last six years. But the season was joyless, and started with Coach Mike Brown being fired just five games into the season.

Mike D’Antoni was shockingly hired and ran a seven seconds or less system that did not fit the Lakers roster of older, slower players. Nash went down immediately with injuries that never allowed him to consistently perform as a Laker. It was also no secret that neither Bryant nor Howard got along. Once again, a good Lakers team was no fun to watch.

Good doesn’t necessarily translate to fun. Luckily for Lakers fans in 2019-2020, the Lakers are both.

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The Lakers Play a Unique Style of Ball in Today’s Game

One of the major knocks on the NBA these days is that with the widespread acceptance of analytics, all teams feel they must play the same style of basketball to win. This means teams must score from the outside-in, with 3-pointers being the focus. Big men are now a thing of the past and are often sat down in big games because teams are all trying to have a small-ball “death lineup” a la the Golden State Warriors.

The Lakers are different. Just looking at the teams the team are facing, it is clear how big the purple and gold are compared to their opponents on a nightly basis. Between Danny Green (6’6”, 215 lbs), LeBron James (6’8”, 250 lbs), Kyle Kuzma (6’9”, 220 lbs), Anthony Davis (6’10”, 253 lbs), Dwight Howard (6’11”, 265 lbs), and JeVale McGee (7’0”, 270 lbs) – not to mention the multiple 6’5” combo guards – the Lakers are tall and physical. They finish at the rim. Dunks and tomahawk jams are a commonplace with this team.

Alley-ups, dunks, contested finishes at the rim, blocked shots, and physical dominance are things that the Lakers bring on a nightly basis that no other NBA team in this day and age can quite match. This makes for an exciting brand of basketball that not only is inherently exciting to watch but is also unique..

The Lakers are Loaded with Underdog Stories

Whether it’s the Cinderella story of the NCAA tournament or movies featuring heroes like Rudy, it is clear that everyone loves to root for an underdog. Despite the embarrassment of riches and success,the Lakers have enjoyed throughout their history, they are absolutely loaded with underdog success stories.

Dwight Howard was left for dead this off-season by most NBA fans. The belief was that he was stuck in the past and had an unrealistic expectation of the role he should play in a modern NBA offense. The belief was that he was a player that had a negative locker room presence. He also battled injuries which forced him to miss most of last season.

And don’t forget about the whole Lakers-fans-hate-him-because-of-the-way-he-left-back-in-2012 thing. All he has done this season is defy all of those expectations, buy into the team concept, become an invaluable presence off the bench and to close games, and somehow become a fan favorite playing a high-energy, low maintenance, no-nonsense, gritty style of ball fans have wished from him for years.

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Alex Caruso is a player none would expect to be where he is today. Drafted out of Texas A&M University, developed from the G-League, known more for his unassuming look and hairline than anything else, he has become an invaluable member of the rotation. He has a net rating of 12.3, meaning that the Lakers are 12.3 points per 100 possessions in the positive when he is on the floor. While his acrobatic dunks steal some headlines, his true value comes with his hard-nosed play and lock-down defense.

LeBron James was battling the belief that he was on the decline due to his age, as he will turn 35 years of age this month (#washedking, right?). James, to the contrary, has had one of the best starts to a season in his career leading the NBA in assists and being considered a MVP candidate.

Anthony Davis had to shake off last year where he hardly played after demanding a trade. He’s also carried the reputation for several seasons of being brittle and prone to injury. Coming into 2019, he had a lot to prove. So far with the Lakers, Davis has also played at MVP level both on offense and defense, is a frontrunner for defensive player of the year, and has only missed one of the Lakers’ first 25 games.

Lakers’ coach, Frank Vogel, was a third or fourth choice after coaching candidates such as Monty Williams (now with the Pheonix Suns) and Tyronn Lue (currently an assistant with the Los Angeles Clippers). Vogel has hit home runs with various rotation mixes, overall flexibility, and buy-in with this Lakers team in an incredibly short period of time.

Even his biggest detractors at the time of his hire have had to admit he is doing an incredible job of coaching the personalities on this team and achieving buy-in on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

The Lakers’ front office, and especially Rob Pelinka, were much maligned in this past off season after Magic Johnson’s unceremonious departure where he trashed the franchise on his way out as publicly as one can. There were calls from all around Laker fandom to ditch the Pelinka experiment and seek after those that appeared more qualified and had a better track record of success, like Masai Ujiri, current President of the Toronto Raptors. But the Lakers chose to do things their own way and stick with Pelinka. All he has done is put together a roster that fits well together on and off the court and has gotten off to their best start since the 1985-1986 season.

One could even argue that the Lakers’ franchise itself is an underdog story in the sense that it was widely argued it was living in the past and had an outdated model of basketball operations. Yet, 25 games into the season, they are at the top of the NBA.

In sum, whether it be the high level of winning, the unreal chemistry, the exciting brand of basketball, or all of the underdog stories, the 2019-2020 Lakers are as fun to watch as any Laker team in history.

Fans need to appreciate what they are watching right now. Finally, for the first time in a long time, the Lakers are joy to watch.

Dwight Howard’s Redemption Season Is Well Underway

(Image/Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

It is rare that anyone admits to being wrong about anything, especially in this social media dominant era. Well, all of this has gone out of the window after the first 4 games of the Los Angeles Lakers’ season due to the incredible play of none other than center, Dwight Howard.

I will admit that I was no President of the Dwight Howard fan-club after his less-than-memorable stay with the purple and gold in the 2012/13 season. In fact, I was downright upset the Lakers even signed Howard over available players like Joakim Noah. Yet, while Noah has not been heard of so far in this early season, Howard is making headlines, and for all the right reasons.

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(Image/Getty Images)

In my defense, there was absolutely no way I could have seen such a resurgence coming. Before being signed by the Lakers this past off-season, Howard had been on 6 teams in 3 years (Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards, and Memphis Grizzlies).

Howard had a reputation for being stuck in the past NBA, wishing to be fed in the post rather than reshaping his role to fit the modern game, by focusing on defense, rebounding, and rim-running. This fact seemed to show in that Howard didn’t appear to have been missed with any franchise he departed.

Last season in Washington consisted of him playing in just 9 games before missing the rest of the season following spinal surgery. After exercising his player option following the 2018 season, Howard was traded to the Grizzlies who promptly waived him. Just when it appeared Howard’s career may very well be over, the Lakers stepped in out of nowhere to sign him for the 2019/20 season, following the injury to DeMarcus Cousins.

Upon his return to Los Angeles, Howard uttered the same cliché phrases he had spoken previously when joining a new team. There are multiple video montages of him stating for his new team how much he was looking forward to having a “fresh start,” and accepting his role – whatever it may be.

Time after time, such rhetoric proved to be less than genuine. So forgive me for not quite buying into such professions of change and willingness to do whatever it took to win regardless of role from Howard.

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However, after the first 4 games of the season on his second go-around with the Lakers, it is undeniable that I will write the 5 words I never thought would come from myself: Dwight Howard has been incredible.

Not only has he truly bought into his role, he is excelling in it in ways heretofore unimagined. The eye test alone would be proof enough of Howard’s effectiveness. His body is in incredible shape, as it appears he has shed weight he has carried in years past. His energy on the court has been apparent. Howard’s defensive presence has propelled multiple second half runs leading to victories. He is blocking shots like he is still playing in Orlando.

Howard even switched onto, and stifled, rookie point guard Ja Morant in the Lakers’ recent win over the Memphis Grizzlies. On multiple occasions Howard’s play has spurred the Staples Center crowd to give him standing ovations. What’s next? A round of applause from cats to dogs?

What’s more is that the numbers resoundingly back up what the eye test is showing in regard to Howard’s play. Since he has been coming off the bench, his counting stats don’t exactly jump off of the page. In 20 minutes per game, he is averaging 5.8 points a game, 7 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, and 1.5 assists, on 68.8% shooting. However, the more advanced numbers show the impact he has had so far on Laker success.

For instance, Howard has an unbelievable defensive rating of 68.4 (points allowed per 100 possessions). The Lakers are also outscoring teams by 27.9 points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor. Howard’s best performance was against the Charlotte Hornets where he scored 16 points on 8-for-8 shooting, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks, a stat line I didn’t believe he was still capable of having in a meaningful NBA game.

Lakers Head Coach, Frank Vogel, recently praised Howard for being a “star in his role”. It’s very early in the season and a lot can happen from now until playoff time. 4 games is certainly no sample size to go on. But how many people thought Howard would give 4 games like these all year, much less in the first 4?

If Dwight Howard’s play continues on this current course, he won’t just be a star in his role, he’ll simply be a star. Oh yes, I’m certainly eating crow in a big way, but it has never tasted so good. Here’s hoping this continues.

By Frank Gaulden (@FrankGaulden)

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