One word: Defense. But is the absence of defense the fault of the head coach Mike D’ Antoni, whose teams have always been known for their offense being stronger than their defense? Or is it simply the result of a lack of effort from the players? In August, it seemed our prayers were answered when the Lakers accepted a trade in which they gained Dwight Howard, three-time defensive player of the year, and a few other bench players. But everyone has fallen short of expectations. Even with two seven footers, Pau Gasol and Howard, and defensive specialist, Metta World Peace, on the court, the Lakers are struggling with defense.
The Lakers’ bench has been gruesome. The second unit is 28th in the NBA for point production (20.5 points per game) and has been unable to maintain or build a lead. Injuries have been a predominant problem, with backup point guard Steve Blake spending the majority of the season on the bench in street clothes and Jordan Hill recently joining him due to a season-ending hip injury. Injuries have plagued the team’s time together to play and build a smooth unit. Another fan might argue that the Lakers haven’t had enough playing time to get the players to bond and build chemistry.
With half of the team older than 30, the Lakers can no longer compete in full-court sprints with young teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors. As the Lakers have had to play the starters 30+ minutes a night, those legs predictably start to wear down through the season. With the consistent scorer Antawn Jamison an overall disappointment and the Lakers unable to rely on the sporadic Jodie Meeks, we’ve seen recent lineups include the inexperienced Darius Morris and Robert Sacre, who aren’t exactly threatening.
The past few months the media has been grilling the Lakers on their inconsistencies and big flop of a season with headlines like “Time to consider options … or is it?” and “Los Angeles Lakers: Is There Any Hope for the Playoffs?”. Even Dwight Howard has spoken out to end the pessimism: “Negativity [has] just got to stop. I’m sick of hearing about it… We got to bring some positivity to this situation, to everybody,” he told ESPN on Jan. 25. “Yes, it’s not the best time to be a Laker fan or a Laker player, but we will get out of it. There’s a rainbow on the other end. I don’t know if we got to eat some more Skittles or whatever it may be, but we got to find a way.”
The bright side is that the Lakers are 6th in the NBA in points scored per game, with an average of 102.1. The team has no problem with offense. But a team can’t just score points; they have to stop the other team from scoring too.
The Lakers also have the star power. With four All-Star players — Gasol, Bryant, Howard, and Nash — they have enough talent to get them to the championship. Nash is able to distribute the ball to everyone, which makes the team smarter as a whole. Bryant can make all the tough shots you give him. Gasol is able to shoot the outside three as well as be an inside presence. And lastly, Howard, who likes to refer to himself as Superman, is arguably the best center in the league and still in his prime.
Excuses have been made, fingers have been pointed, and team meetings have been called, but all to no avail. The Lakers find themselves at the bottom of the conference looking up with nothing to point to but a change on the horizon. All we can do now is sit and watch in pain as another game ends in an overtime loss.
*All statistics are updated as of Feb. 6, 2013