LOS ANGELES -- While they're not yet into Eastern mysticism, the Los Angeles Lakers are beginning to look like Phil Jackson's team.
Kobe Bryant, a natural on offense, is playing tenacious defense. Shaquille O'Neal, who in the past tried to do most everything himself, is kicking the ball back out to the open man. All the role players, including the reserves, are fitting seamlessly into the flow of games.
In their first season under Jackson, the Lakers are playing with a sort of confident harmony, something their coach -- a bit of a guru -- can appreciate.
"We've really taken on this personality of composure and calm and being poised regardless of the situation," guard Derek Fisher said.
The Lakers also happen to be playing the best basketball in the NBA with a record of 47-11 and are on a 13-game winning streak after an earlier run of 16 in a row.
Bryant believes the team is beginning to reflect Jackson's personality, "as far as being real cerebral and being very mindful of the game."
"That's the type of personality that Phil has brought to the team and we kind of bought into it. We have belief in the system," Bryant said.
Said Jackson: "They are really growing and learning."
The Lakers' most significant progress this season is on defense, where they rank fourth in the league, holding opponents to 90.6 points a game. Last season, they ranked 25th, allowing 96 points a game.
"I think a lot of our improvement is just getting a better understanding that it takes defense to win, and not just our skills," Fisher said. "I think some of it is the respect that we all have for Phil, coming in here and taking this job. At the same time, it's growth and maturity by us."
The Lakers also are playing better offense than they were in the early days of Jackson's triangle offense.
O'Neal, averaging 27.7 points and 14.2 rebounds, and Bryant, averaging 22.3 points and six rebounds, are still the go-to guys. But both have averaged about six assists each during the current winning streak, and their unselfishness seems to be rubbing off on their teammates. In a recent 109-96 win over Boston, the Lakers had 41 baskets -- and 35 assists, topped by Ron Harper with seven.
While the Lakers have the league's best record, they believe they still have a way to go.
"Back then, we felt confident we were going to win every night and that was how it was," Green recalled, talking of his with championship Lakers teams in the '80s. "Hopefully this team will get to that point; it's what we're trying to do."
Jackson feels that, rather than taking on his personality, the Lakers are developing their own.
"A team has to have their own heads, so to speak, in many ways," he said. "A coach needs to monitor until they find their own way together as a unit. Until they do, they're not going to be that championship-caliber team they want to be."
Los Angeles, which had its 16-game win streak end in a 111-102 loss at Indiana, tries to extend its current string to 14 against the Pacers tonight at Staples Center.
"I look forward to Indiana; they're a very deep team," Jackson said. "We're going to need our bench."
Los Angeles faces another good team after the Pacers, meeting the Miami Heat on Sunday at home.
If the Lakers win those two, they'll try to equal their 16-game streak, the league's longest this year and second-longest in team history, against the lowly Clippers Tuesday night. After the Clippers, the Lakers have a run of five games in which they also will be heavily favored.
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