The period of adjustment seems to be over for the Lakers.
With a new coach and some new players, the team with the NBA’s best record last season got off to its worst start in 12 years. The Lakers started the season under Mike Dunleavy with four losses in five games.
But all is well these days as the Lakers are riding a five-game winning streak after Wednesday night’s 97-80 victory over San Antonio.
“I’m sleeping a lot better now,” Magic Johnson, unaccustomed to losing, said. “It was awful. I knew it would be rough, but I didn’t know we’d lose so much.”
After looking out of sync in Dunleavy’s new system, the Lakers appear to be developing rhythm and rapport.
“We’ve been feeling each other out,” Johnson said. “We’re playing good defense and running. In our first games, we had to think about setting up and running plays; with a whole new system, whole new plays, we didn’t know our spots, didn’t know who was going to take shots from where.
“We all, myself, James (Worthy) and Byron have gotten used to shooting from certain places and now that’s changed. Eight-year-old habits are hard to change, and we were standing around thinking, ‘What do I do now?’ But we’re getting used to it so we don’t have to think about everything, and we’re also running.”
Dunleavy said the changes aren’t too dramatic, although he knew it would be awhile until the Lakers felt comfortable with them.
“Defensively, they’ve had to learn to make some new reads and decide when to double team,” he said. “Offensively, we’re making more use of our post-up players. It’s all a learning process, with the players learning that if there’s a double-team, where they should cut and who fills in the space.
“It’s the second and third passes, swinging the ball around for an open shot, that we’re just getting used to.”
In addition to Dunleavy’s changes in strategy, the old cadre of players--Johnson, Worthy, Scott and A. C. Green--have had to get used to some new teammates, including Sam Perkins and Terry Teagle.
Dunleavy also has done some lineup juggling. He’s using Vlade Divac as the starting center, with Mychal Thompson relegated to a backup role, and has moved Perkins into Green’s former starting role at forward, with Green coming off the bench.
In the win over San Antonio, which had beaten the Lakers 110-99 in the season opener, Perkins had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Green had 14 points and five rebounds in 21 minutes and Teagle, who played 20 minutes, had 11 points.
“We’re getting better,” Dunleavy said. “By no means are we there yet, but we’re getting better.”