NBA Beat: Farmar, Lakers making most of team’s new underdog role

Jordan Farmar pondered the question briefly with a slight grin.

Is it fun to be an underdog as a Los Angeles Laker?

“I don’t know, not as a Laker,” Farmar said. “It feels weird. I’m used to always having a target on your back and everybody coming for you every night no matter where you go, so it’s a new situation for me. We’re just trying to make the most of it, compete every night and win every game we can.”

That’s life as a Laker for Farmar, who returned to Los Angeles after leaving as a free agent following the 2010 season, the last time the Lakers won a championship.

The Lakers aren’t the marquee team in Los Angeles – that would be the Clippers – and little is expected of them a year after an NBA championship was the only way the season would have been deemed a success.

Instead of the group of stars collected last season, the Lakers are largely a collection of players seeking redemption surrounding Pau Gasol while Kobe Bryant works his way back from Achilles’ surgery.

They’ve used a scrappy, team-oriented style of play to get off to a 9-8 start.

That’s not championship-quality basketball, but it’s better than some expected from a lot of players that only basketball enthusiasts can identify.

Farmar played overseas the last two seasons and wanted back in the NBA. In addition, there are Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry, former lottery picks who haven’t panned out and were signed to supplement the roster.

A summer of mining free agency for bargains left many people wondering if the Lakers would even be a top-10 team in the Western Conference, much less a playoff team in the top eight.

Dwight Howard bolted in the offseason. Bryant’s injury, suffered in April, has the Lakers wondering when he might return to game action.

The Lakers, however, haven’t accepted the notion they will be at the bottom of the standings.

“We already knew that going in,” Farmar said of lowered expectations. “We didn’t pay much attention to outside experts or people who know it all. We just tried to stay together, stay on the same page and try to help each other be successful. That’s what it’s coming down to right now. We still have a lot of room to grow.”

Regardless of how the season turns out, the Lakers will still have the salary cap space available to add a max-contract player to help Bryant next season.

If that works out, the Lakers won’t be an underdog very long.

Trending up

Even a rough Friday night against Indiana’s defense can’t completely cast shade on John Wall’s play of late.

Wall averaged 25.2 points and 6.6 assists over his last five games, including a streak of three games in a row with at least 30 points. Wall shot 51.7 percent over that span, in which the Wizards were 3-2.

Some wondered why the Wizards would commit to a max deal for Wall last summer. The Wizards haven’t made the playoffs with Wall in his first three seasons, and you won’t find many who consider Wall an elite point guard.

But when the Wizards win, Wall is elite. He has averaged 21.6 points and 10.1 assists in seven Washington wins this season.

Trending down

With the Knicks falling in the standings rapidly, someone needs to step up and help Carmelo Anthony. That hasn’t been the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, J.R. Smith. Smith is shooting 32.8 percent for the season and is averaging 11.7 points.

Last words

“I don’t think that’s very savvy or cool. I love Jason (Kidd) to death. He’s going to be a great coach, but no, you don’t do that.”

– Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni when asked by reporters about Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd purposely spilling a drink on the court to delay the game without any timeouts left in order to draw up a play against the Lakers. Kidd told reporters he was “trying to win” and “probably shouldn’t have” spilled the drink on the court.

The NBA fined Kidd $50,000.