The Lakers proved Tuesday night that they are finally learning how to win games. They still have trouble concentrating and playing for the complete 48 minutes, but the recent trio of positive results is rooted in lessons learned during a four-game losing streak.
During the four-game skid that started in Oklahoma City on Dec. 7, the Lakers consistently dug deep early holes, nearly climbed back, but ultimately fell short. Regardless of the opponent, the script never changed.
Against the Thunder, the Lakers trailed by as many as 19 points but ultimately only lost by six. Against the Utah Jazz, the Lakers trailed by as many as 15 but cut the deficit to seven by the final buzzer. Against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Lakers buried themselves in a 16-point ditch before ultimately drowning by only six points. On the national stage against the New York Knicks, the Lakers were torched to a 26-point crisp before ultimately losing by nine points.
Not only were the Lakers unable to play 48 minutes, they were unable to complete the comebacks. Every time, the team showed heart and desire by refusing to quit, but the Lakers just did not know how to win games on either end of the floor—especially on defense.
After the loss to New York, something changed.
The Lakers took the confidence gained from their comebacks and hit the Wizards with three strong quarters of play that had the Lakers up 14 points. The Lakers fell into bad habits in the final quarter, and the game turned into a narrow six-point win. Still, the Lakers won.
In Philadelphia, the Lakers put together a convincing win that was powered by Kobe Bryant putting on a trick show and highlight reel for his hometown crowd.
Against the Charlotte Bobcats, however, was a completely different story. The Lakers reverted to the pattern of digging deep holes early. Trailing by 18 points with a little under 18 minutes remaining in the game, the Lakers fight-back was on. This time, though, something was different.
Lessons learned during the four-game losing streak combined with the confidence gained during the current winning streak gave this team belief that they could not only come back; they could win. Over the final 17 minutes of the game, the Lakers played stifling defense and held the Bobcats to only 20 points.
Even a team anchored by Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard needs to go through a process to learn how to win games. Evidenced by a three-game winning streak, this team is learning.
Against the Bobcats, the Lakers proved that they may not yet be able to consistently play a full 48 minutes, but they do not believe the game is lost until the full 48 minutes are up. Although this team is far from where it needs to be, no lead is safe against these Lakers.