The Los Angeles Lakers and their NBA D-League affiliate, the L.A. D-Fenders have shared a lot more than color schemes and usage of the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California recently, especially in the month of January. Both teams would like to forget their start of 2013 as they stumbled for the majority in the first month. However, with possible signature wins ironically against the Oklahoma City Thunder and their NBA D-League affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers, both teams are looking to turn things around heading into February.
The D-Fenders entered the season with high expectations as they were coming off one of the greatest regular seasons ever in the NBA D-League under head coach Eric Musselman. Musselman won Coach of the Year honors and helped guide the D's to the D-League Finals where they lost in the best-of-3 series to the Austin Toros. Along the way the team compiled a league-record 38 wins en route to their first ever D-League Finals appearance.
The D-Fenders also had 7 Call-Ups last season, highlighted by the likes of Jamaal Tinsley, Gerald Green, and current member of the D-Fenders, Courtney Fortson. Fortson who is a top prospect in the D-League this season, received two seperate Call-Ups playing under Eric Musselman last season. Despite being arguably the best player in the NBA D-League this season, Fortson has yet to receive a Call-Up.
On January 14, while the D-Fenders were in the middle of a 4-game losing streak, the team added a familiar face in Zach Andrews to come in and help their squad. Andrews is a dominating big man, who has incredible strength around the basket and was likely brought in to help with the defense, which is allowing 102.1 points per game. Andrews is averaging 10.7 points and 8.6 rebounds in 7 games thus far for the D-Fenders.
Meanwhile, the D-Fenders NBA affiliate Los Angeles Lakers are coming off a rather uninspired January themselves. The Lakers kicked off the month with a 6-game losing streak and followed it up with a 4-game losing skid later in the month after a pair of victories over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks. The Lakers have since shuffled their rotations, and have also welcomed back Steve Blake into their lineup.
It seems as though head coach Mike D'Antoni is finding some success with his lineups and the ever impressive play of Kobe Bryant has created some hope for the Lakers as they head into the month of February. Up until this point the Lakers' season has been an underachieving mess as they entered the year with lofty expectations similar to their D-League counterpart.
Unlike the closely watched struggles in which the Lakers have experienced, the pressure is obviously different and less scrutinized as the D-Fenders have played mediocre ball so far this season. But you have to believe the Buss family takes pride in seeing their D-League team succeed on the floor in addition to the Lakers, and as this season progresses look for the D's to continue making moves in order to get better.
The addition of Elijah Millsap, who earned All-NBA D-League Second Team honors and finished the season as the Player of the Week last year, is starting to pay dividends for the club. Millsap ripped off a 32 point effort in a win against Fort Wayne earlier this month, and seems to be finding his rhythm under head coach Reggie Theus. Fortson, Millsap and Gary Flowers will need to continue their impressive play for first year head coach Theus, as he continues to find a level of comfort in the league himself.
The D-Fenders will play 7 of their 9 games in February on the road, and will need to kick start a hot streak similar to what their NBA affiliate (Lakers) are hoping to accomplish next month, in order to get back in each team's respective playoff race.