Lakers hoping for right tempo this season

first_img“I was on drugs back then,” joked D’Antoni, who had recovered from recent knee replacement surgery. “My knee was hurting. Vicadin was killing me.”There is actually a different reason for D’Antoni’s change in sentiments.Hence, D’Antoni enters his second season with the Lakers setting a different expectation on the pace he’d like his team to play.“It’ll be up but it won’t be crazy,” D’Antoni said. “We want to push it, get a nice pace and get some easy buckets before the defense sets up. It won’t be breakneck speed but it’ll be good enough for everybody to catch up.”How the Lakers find that rhythm depends on a few factors, and could largely determine to what degree the Lakers maximize their talent. Long before everything crumbled around him, Mike D’Antoni sauntered into Los Angeles last year openly envisioning some grandiose ideas.He gushed about the Lakers providing another sequel to Showtime. D’Antoni scoffed at concerns whether the Lakers’ veteran-laden roster could increase the speed to match his fast-paced offense that famously became dubbed as “seven seconds or less.” He also set out a specific bar the Lakers should reach on offense.“If we’re not averaging 110 or 115 points per game,” D’Antoni said, “then we need to talk.”Overlapping injuries, an unhappy Dwight Howard, a facilitating Pau Gasol and a slow-trodden roster that averaged 32.5 years in age all contributed to the Lakers falling woefully short of D’Antoni’s initial goal. The Lakers averaged 102.2 points per game last season, which ranked 6th overall out of 30 NBA teams. That figure becomes less impressive when equating the team’s three-point shooting (35.5 percent, 19th overall), assists (22.4, 16th) and turnovers (14.6, 23rd). “I don’t think it really suits us to play that fast, but there’s a continual pace that’s important to find” said Lakers guard Steve Nash, who ran D’Antoni’s faster-paced offense through four seasons with the Phoenix Suns. “Other than the first year or two with Mike, it wasn’t that fast. The reputation in the first year or two in Phoenix made it seem like we’re a fast-break team. But we really weren’t. But there was a pace that allows his offense to run at a good level.”Still, there appears to be some division on how the Lakers go about mastering that.Some on the Lakers looked at last season’s effort where they closed out the regular season with a 28-12 record following a team air-it-out meeting in late January as a blueprint to follow. For the sake of team balance, Kobe Bryant’s statistical output took a relative dip from his 33 points per game average in December in the ensuing months in January (24.4), February (23.9), March (26.5) and April (30.5). Steve Nash’s role as an off-the-ball-shooter contributed to him averaging a season-high 14.5 points per game in March. Through eight games in April, a consistent post presence helped Dwight Howard (21.6 points) and Pau Gasol (17.6 points) produce their highest scoring output all season when they played together in the starting lineup.The Lakers fulfilled all this by also slowing down the tempo. “We’re going to play the way we finished off last year with the tempo that’s right for us,” Bryant said at the beginning of training camp. “We’re not an up and down type of team with any sense of the imagination. But we’ll use the strengths that we have. “Yet, Nash argued the Lakers’ late-season success hinged more on Bryant’s heroics than a framework to replicate. “We never really played Mike’s offense last year,” Nash said. “We had a pretty high talent level and were able to find ways to win games. But we never really found an identity with Mike’s offense.” Different variables also change that dynamic.The Lakers don’t know when Bryant will return after spending the past six months rehabbing his left Achilles tendon. Howard left this offseason to the Houston Rockets via free agency. The Lakers also acquired more athletic and younger players this offseason on the wings with specific skill sets. Nick Young can score in bunches off his own shot. The Lakers believe Wesley Johnson’s length will improve floor spacing. Jordan Farmar joined the Lakers mostly because D’Antoni’s offense caters to his playmaking abilities. Chris Kaman, a 10-year veteran, can score both in the post and on mid-range jumpers. The Lakers are relatively healthier, too. “We have to utilize our wings with their speed and athleticism, but not too much,” Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. “But not too much faster than we did last year. I think we still have to play somewhere of a controlled pace and a pace everybody is comfortable with and go from there.”That’s because the Lakers remain concerned about keeping up with younger and quicker rosters, such as the Oklahoma City Thunder, Clippers and Golden State Warriors. Last season, the Lakers’ 15.1 turnovers per game largely contributed toward allowing 16 fast-break points per game, which ranked 29th out of 30 NBA teams. That’s why D’Antoni envisions reserving a slower pace for his starting lineup mixed with veterans and a faster tempo for his reserves that features youth and speed. Regardless of how this plays out, it appears D’Antoni is open minded.“Whether I like to run a little faster or not doesn’t really matter,” D’Antoni said. “It’s about what the players can do and we’ll adjust to find their strengths and go at that rhythm.”It proved to be a lesson last season that D’Antoni experienced the hard way.“I think he learned that the personnel didn’t have the makeup for that type of play,” Nash said. “He didn’t have the shooting or athleticism last year. But I think last year was a pretty strange season.”center_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img