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Observation Deck

Lakers finding their way, what ails the Cavs and more

Posted: Tuesday February 6, 2007 5:47PM; Updated: Tuesday February 6, 2007 6:27PM
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Kobe Bryant may try to take over at times -- especially late in games -- but in general the Lakers are succeeding with the hard-to-master triangle offense.
Kobe Bryant may try to take over at times -- especially late in games -- but in general the Lakers are succeeding with the hard-to-master triangle offense.
Greg Nelson/SI
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Various midseason NBA report cards have already handed the Coach of the Year award to Phil Jackson, nods that seem wholly appropriate. Not only does Jackson have his Lakers on pace for more than 50 wins, but he's also doing it with a roster that shouldn't be playing this well, this soon.

Tex Winter's triangle offense (which Jackson has long employed) often takes ages to learn and execute properly. It requires quick thinkers who can anticipate angles and think several steps ahead of the defense. It also demands the sort of selflessness that can't be created just by trying to overthink your way into becoming an equal-opportunity player.

If you spend your time thinking and thinking about doing away with selfishness, trying to pass all the time, you really miss the point and hurt the offense. One usually just has to work within the confines of the offense until the usual basketball mind-sets (team-first play on one end, aggressive individual play on the other) meld into a fully formed ethos that has you hitting cutters with passes but also attacking the open seams in a defense.

Which is why the Lakers, with that youthful core, are such an intriguing watch. These kids know the offense, and though a little pressure often leaves the execution wanting, they're trying. And Kobe Bryant is holding it all together. Lamar Odom has been in and out (and though he's played superb basketball, his mid-range shooting still needs desperate help), Luke Walton is out for another week, Kwame Brown is off somewhere confiscating pastries and the Lakers are still making it work. Kobe deserves the plaudits.

This isn't to say that Kobe has been perfect -- and he's usually at his most entertaining when he isn't. The triangle isn't always a fun offense; you get bored running around, away from the ball, seemingly without purpose. The season drags on and you have to work to keep things interesting. That's when we usually see Kobe start to treat the four-minute mark in the fourth quarter like the closing seconds of a close game, chucking up desperation shots as if the outcome depended on a 20-foot fadeaway.

And, as is his custom, Jackson sits in that orthopedic chair, unmoved. Kobe has earned his bit of fun.

• Even playing in the NBA's deepest division, the Milwaukee Bucks were at least supposed to have a fighting chance to approach the .500 mark, potentially giving the Central Division five postseason participants. Through Monday they were stuck at 18-30, showing few signs of life and barely looking playoff-bound even when Michael Redd was on board. Redd, who should return this week, can't help Milwaukee with its most pressing concern: a pitiful defense that is last in the league in defensive efficiency.

This group shows precious little interest in staying in front of anyone, the guards are perpetually going under screens or reaching, and the help defense is a joke. Ruben Patterson has been declining as a defender for years, but he's taken his biggest dive in 2006-07, preferring to lope toward steals and little else. And second-year center Andrew Bogut is among the worst in the NBA when it comes to defensive rotations, equally inept at closing out on shooters like Michael Doleac or penetrating guards.

Last week we talked about blowing up the New Jersey Nets, and they made us look good by dropping four straight in the days since. A couple of e-mailers wondered if the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have lost nine of 12, were next up for the scorched-earth treatment. Excluding LeBron James, natch, it appears as if the supporting cast that general manager Danny Ferry has assembled is entirely replaceable, but would anyone want these guys?

Drew Gooden is in the first season of a three-year deal, which makes it hard to grab equal value for the mercurial power forward, even with his affordable contract (he is making $6.6 million in 2006-07).

Zydrunas Ilgauskas may be underutilized, even in Cleveland's slowed-down attack, but it'll be hard to find a taker for a 31-year-old center with three years and $32.5 million left on his contract after this season.


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