Phil Jackson has always said that you can tell a team is great when it wins 40 before it loses 20. Tonight, the Lakers accomplished just that, beating Portland 96-83 to improve their record to 40-17.
The Lakers now have won nine in a row, and they have the best record in the Western Conference. It appears that Kobe Bryant's finger is not going to be a problem. Pau Gasol has gelled more quickly than anyone could have possibly imagined, and he's every bit as good as advertised. Gasol's presence has put less pressure on Lamar Odom, who is now playing the best basketball I've ever seen him play. He's utilizing his length to get rebounds, and he's creating opportunities for others. Odom also is getting more open shots as defenses are having enough trouble with Kobe and Gasol. In the meantime, Sasha Vujacic has suddenly looked like a legitimate NBA player, Jordan Farmar continues to look strong, and Derek Fisher is a steadying influence. Imagine how good the Lakers can be when Andrew Bynum comes back.
It's time for NBA writers to start considering Phil Jackson for Coach of the Year, as he's made all of this work out much better than anyone could have thought. Kobe Bryant should get serious consideration for the MVP award with his unselfish and team-oriented play this year. And Mitch Kupchak may finally win an Executive of the Year Award, having made the best deadline deal and also having made the right call on not giving up Kobe cheap. Every one of his moves seem to be working out well this season.