Lakers display evidence of pulse


If the Los Angeles Lakers' season is a scripted reality show, the writers in Hollywood deserve some sort of award. It's hard not to follow every episode, featuring Kobe Bryant and his dysfunctional supporting cast of characters.

It's similar to "Seinfeld," a show about nothing involving quirky people and comical misadventures. The conclusion is often unpredictable.

Last week, the storyline was all about Bryant's frustrations. He played the piano to cope with a loss before calling a closed-door meeting that turned into an effective group therapy session.

On the verge of being cast aside as a lost cause, the Lakers magically turned things around Sunday and whipped the NBA's top team, handing the Oklahoma City Thunder a 105-96 loss. Just as the wind changes directions, can one win change everything for the Lakers?

"It's a good win because of what it means in the locker room," LVH sports book oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said. "There was so much negativity going around, and now there's going to be a positive feeling. Every game they play is a new story. It's amazing. But the Lakers still have a lot to prove."

The Lakers, 19-25 and 10th in the Western Conference, still have a lot of ground to make up to sneak into the eighth spot and conclude their clumsy season in the playoffs.

Sherman is following the story as closely as anyone. On Jan. 12, he posted the proposition bet, Will the Lakers make the playoffs? At that time the line was pick-em, and for a brief time - after back-to-back wins - the "Yes" side was favored at minus-300.

But the script flipped, the Lakers lost four in a row, Bryant played the piano, and the line was adjusted to "No" minus-250 going into Sunday's game.

Kevin Durant and the Thunder rolled into Los Angeles as 3½-point favorites, and maybe this was the turning point. Bryant compiled 21 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds. Point guard Steve Nash appeared young and vibrant down the stretch.

Big men Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, who shrugged off his latest shoulder injury to make 2 of 10 free throws, pitched in and preached togetherness. Suddenly, neither Gasol nor Howard will be traded to Brooklyn, Minnesota or Orlando.

Jack Nicholson proudly stood courtside, as did Denzel Washington, Matt Kemp and other celebrity types.

Mike D'Antoni, the proverbial coach on the hot seat, did not look as clueless with his team riding high on a two-game winning streak. Problems solved? Not quite.

"The one thing I've seen the last couple games is Kobe has been more of a facilitator. He has changed his game, and he's getting everyone else more involved in the offense," Sherman said. "That is an improvement. It's going to take a lot of improvements, but that's at least one.

"Something has to get better with the defense. I just don't like the way the team is being coached. If they had gotten Phil Jackson, things would be unbelievably different. They would be so much better than they are right now."

As the Lakers finished off the Thunder, a smattering of applause echoed off the walls in the LVH book and a handful of diehard bettors made a beeline for the windows. Sherman adjusted the prop line. The Lakers' playoff odds are now "No" minus-140 and "Yes" plus-120.

"All of the sudden, people were asking if we had the prop up because they wanted to bet 'Yes.' If the Lakers win a couple in a row, everyone looks to get on them," Sherman said. "If they lose a couple, everybody is looking to bet against them."

Only the Flint Tropics' playoff push was more entertaining.

The Lakers host New Orleans on Tuesday before embarking on a seven-game road trip. One stop is Brooklyn, where Howard's future will be a hot topic, and another stop is Boston, where the Celtics are down and out after learning that point guard Rajon Rondo blew out his right knee Friday.

Somehow the Lakers, who've lost seven straight on the road, will need to climb back to .500, hold off Dallas and try to leapfrog some combination of Houston, Portland and Utah to reach the playoffs.

"We think they will be about two games out of the eighth spot by the All-Star break," said Sherman, who's not counting out the Lakers. "I wouldn't trust them, either."

So, will the Lakers make the playoffs? "No" remains the better bet. The other question is, why are the Clippers not a bigger story?

■ BOTTOM LINES - Tiger Woods, like the Lakers, is hot again. Woods holds a six-shot lead with 11 holes to go at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego. He closed at 7-1 odds to win the fog-delayed tournament, which will finish today. Woods always plays well at Torrey Pines, though, so I'm not totally buying into his comeback to dominance just yet. ...

A week before the Super Bowl, the books won a decision on the Pro Bowl. Bettors drove the total from 86 to 80, thinking NFL stars were going to take defense seriously this year. It was not a smart move, as the NFC trounced the AFC 62-35 in Hawaii.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts "The Las Vegas Sportsline" weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

 

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