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Offense sputters miserably in all six games without Kobe Bryant as Dwight Howard does not meet expectations.
Kobe Bryant (left) willed the Lakers to the playoffs, but without him, Dwight Howard (right) could not put this team on his back to win a single game. Photo by Jeff Lewis
Please do not argue with the Sports Editor. That’s like fooling yourself into believing that the Lakers offense would be better without Kobe Bryant. It just does not make any sense. Illustration by David G. Brown
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
The Lakers limped into the first round of the NBA’s playoffs, and they painfully limped out of it, without Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, or Meta World Peace, among a couple other role players due to injuries. That will lead some people to think that this abomination of a season was derailed by injuries. Ah, not so fast.
Are injuries on the list of problems that this Lakers team had this season? Sure. Is the injury factor on the top of the list? No, and nobody should let this Lakers team off the hook. This season was labeled a disappointed of epic proportions well before they lost Bryant with two games to play in the regular season.
The Lakers advertised a roster that had four future Hall of Fame players, and for the bulk of the season they had at least three of those players on the court at the same time. Bryant played just about the entire season, and Howard was on the court for the bulk of the year. Nash and Pau Gasol missed extended periods of time, but not at the same time.
Even with the injury problems, on a nightly basis this team rolled out more talent than their opponents, but nobody in the NBA feared them, and several teams enjoyed having a field day against the Lakers. It can almost be argued that even if this team was relatively healthy for the bulk of the season, the results would not have been much different.
There are several negative storylines that are revolving around the Lakers demise, with Bryant and Dwight Howard at the center of most of them. After being swept by the Spurs in the first round, which happened to the Lakers for the first time since 1967, a much greater appreciation for Bryant has formed, while a great displeasure for Howard has surfaced.
There have always been a lot of people who felt that the offense does not flow well with Bryant taking the most shots. He has always been known as a ball hog, and some people have felt that the Lakers offense plays better without him.
Well in six games without Bryant, the Lakers failed to reach 100 points in any of those game.
For the season the Lakers averaged 102.2 points per game, which was sixth in the league. In Bryant’s final three games of the season, as the Lakers were making their final push towards the playoffs, the Lakers averaged 111.6 points per game with a high of 118 points and two games over 110 points. In the six games without Bryant the Lakers never hit the century mark, as they averaged 88.5 points per game. They failed to score 90 points in half of those games, and they failed to score 80 in one game. They even had an overtime game, and they still could not get to 100 points.
In all six of those games they had Howard, who is supposed to be the future of one of the greatest organizations in professional sports. With Bryant, many people felt that Howard could not blossom into the superstar player that he is at times viewed as. Not having Bryant on the court was supposed to allow Howard to show that he could put a team on his back and win games. He was supposed to show that he is a dominant player. That he deserves the superstar status. But instead he shrunk in the moment. He proved a lot of people right, that as great of an athlete that he is, and as great of a defensive player that he is, he is a limited offensive player. In the NBA it is all about the offense, and that is where Howard struggled.
Howard also failed to motivate this team. He failed to will this team to victories like a superstar player is supposed to, and he did not give the Lakers any reason to want to build their future around him. His defining moment, with this being his team for a short stint, was being ejected from the elimination game against the Spurs. In the series Howard picked up four technical fouls in four games, and his second in Game 4 sent him to an early vacation. It did not really matter much, because when he was ejected the Lakers were losing by 21 points.
It is interesting that the Lakers have been so fascinated with centers who have limited abilities, and who have not shown much interest in playing for the Lakers (Howard and Andrew Bynum), but the best offensive center on the team, and perhaps in the league, Gasol, has been pushed out of the low post in favor of the other two big men. And also factor in that out of those three players, Gasol is the only one who has shown a great interest in playing for the Lakers. Gasol has repeatedly stated that he wants to remain a Laker. Last year Bynum said that he did not care where he played, while he was still a Laker, and Howard said that he did not want to become a Laker.
The Lakers won two titles with Gasol listed as a power forward, but he played most of those games at center. With Bynum usually injured, in foul trouble, or just sitting on the bench because of inexperience, Gasol was playing center with Lamar Odom playing power forward. But with the emergence of Bynum, Odom was traded and Gasol was pushed to the outside, and with Howard coming on board, even with his limited offensive abilities, Gasol was left toiling away around the three-point line.
The Lakers are crumbling as Bryant’s future is uncertain because of his serious injury, Howard can walk away from the team or the Lakers front offense may decide to go in a different direction, and there has been a lot of talk that the Lakers will either trade Gasol or use the amnesty clause on him.
Last summer the feelings were great as the Lakers traded for Nash and Howard. Pairing them with Bryant and Gasol was supposed to deliver a championship. But after the Lakers stumbled through the regular season, qualifying for the playoffs on the final night of the season, and then getting thoroughly embarrassed by the Spurs, this is easily the most disappointing season in Lakers history.