The Lakers were supposed to be championship contenders, but they have hit the skids over the first month and an half of the season. Photo by Jeff Lewis
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
If Lakers legendary broadcaster Chick Hearn were still alive, he would probably say that “the mustard is off the hotdog,” because the Lakers entered the season as a team primed for a run at the NBA Finals title, but they have stumbled through the first month and a half of the season, and it is getting embarrassing.
Another “Chickism” that is fitting for this season is “caught with his hand in the cookie jar.” Hearn would say that when a player committed a reaching foul, which Lakers management appears to have done when they hired Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, whose style of play does not fit the personnel on this roster, instead of former Head Coach Phil Jackson.
Hearn might also say that “they couldn’t beat the Sisters of Mercy,” because opposing teams are taking their turn running up and down the court against the Lakers horrible defense.
So far D’Antoni has been everything that he was advertised to be. He has produced some of the best offenses in the NBA over the past decade, and some of the worse defenses.
Offensively the Lakers have produced under D’Antoni. Their five game stretch leading into Tuesday night’s game at Cleveland, they averaged 104.6 points per game. Last season under Head Coach Mike Brown, their stagnant offense average only 97.3 points per game, and through the first five games of this season, before Brown was fired, they were averaging only 95.1 points per game while starting the season 1-4.
That five game stretch where they averaged 104.6 points per game, their record was 1-4. D’Antoni and Brown are opposites, but only in that they have found completely opposite ways for this Lakers team to lose games.
During that 1-4 stretch under D’Antoni, the Lakers’ defense gave up 107.6 points per game, which is just horrible by NBA standards. Take out the victory over New Orleans, who are one of the worst teams in the league, and the Lakers gave up 112.7 points per game. In comparison, the Lakers gave up 95.9 points per game last season under Brown.
The question is starting to float around after a 9-12 start to the season. Can the Lakers dig themselves out of this hole? Well, yes, they can. There is a lot of season left, and it is way too early to project which teams will make the playoffs. But can the Lakers climb up to the top seed in the Western Conference? That is pretty much out of the question at this point.
If the Lakers do not turn things around in a hurry, then they probably will not have a top four seed in the playoffs, meaning that they will not have home court advantage in any round, which makes it difficult to make it to the NBA Finals.
At this point it is even hard to gauge if the Lakers can go on a run, because it is still unknown when point guard Steve Nash will return. It is unknown how he will affect the team (can the Lakers really depend on a 39-year-old player to make that much of a difference?). It is still unknown whether or not this roster can run D’Antoni’s system, even with Nash coming back. And it is unknown whether or not the Lakers offense under Nash will be able to produce more points than what they are giving up.
Shooting guard Kobe Bryant is having a great year, leading the league with 28.6 points per game while shooting 48.2 percent from the field, his best in years. Outside of poor free throw shooting, center Dwight Howard is playing up to expectations while he is averaging 18.4 points per game and 11.7 rebounds. But none of that really matters if the Lakers cannot stop anybody. And with former Defensive Players of the Year on the roster in Howard and small forward Metta World Peace, and a perennial All Defensive Team player in Bryant, it is hard to figure out why this team is so horrible on that end of the court.
The Lakers are taking a wait and see approach with this team. They are waiting until Nash gets back, and hoping that solves their problems. If the problems still are not solved, power forward Pau Gasol will more than likely be traded, because he does not fit D’Antoni’s system at all. Gasol needs to set up in the low post with his back to the basket, but D’Antoni’s system keeps the low post clear, which forces Gasol out to the perimeter.
Gasol may end up being the odd man out, but if the Lakers had hired Jackson to coach the team, common logic is that they would not be having these problems because his system favors low post players, and his teams played defense when they needed to, mostly in the playoffs. At this point it appears that D’Antoni is not concerned about Gasol at all, which could force the big man out of town.
It looks like D’Antoni will try to right the ship with more offense when Nash gets back, but if the Lakers continue to play horrible defense, it might not matter who is playing point guard.
As for the game at Cleveland, against a Cavaliers team that entered the game with a 4-17 record, the Lakers lost, dropping them to 9-13 on the season. A modified “Chickism” for the Lakers championship hopes right about now is “the Lakers have two chances, slim and none, and slim is getting ready to leave the building.”