Assessing the Damage: Five Questions About the Lakers’ Struggles

Illustration by Hype of Music

On Monday evening, the writers at ESPN Los Angeles asked a panel of experts several questions regarding the Los Angeles Lakers and the team’s disappointing and surprising stretch of subpar basketball. You can see the entire transcript here. For the purposes of this site, I decided to reproduce those questions and give you my personal take on them. For your information, I answered the questions on my own before reading any of the responses given by the panelists. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section afterward!

1. What one thing most concerns you in what you see in the Lakers’ play right now?

The lack of pride. The Lakers have been 1) embarrassed on their home court and 2) embarrassed in highly-anticipated showdowns against top teams.

Back on December 21, the Milwaukee Bucks dominated the Lakers en route to a 98-79 victory at Staples Center. Not only are the Bucks a below .500 team, but they played that game without key starters Brandon Jennings, Corey Maggettee, and Drew Gooden; those three players combined average nearly 40 points per contest. The Lakers were outscored 13 to 26 in the fourth quarter and Kobe Bryant was ejected during that quarter.

That same week presented the most anticipated game of the NBA season; the Miami Heat visited downtown Los Angeles for a game that looked like an All-Star game and had the hype of an NBA Finals matchup. With the entire basketball world watching, the Lakers started and ended the game very slowly; they were outscored 14 to 20 in the first quarter and 16 to 21 in the final quarter. LeBron James recorded a triple-double and Chris Bosh dominated the Lakers front line. The 80-96 loss was not only disappointing, but truly a smack in the face.

Then, in another big game against the team with the league’s best record, the San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers laid yet another dud and lost 82-97. Given a chance to redeem themselves by making a statement against perhaps their biggest threat, the Lakers were out-hustled by the likes of DeJuan Blair and out-played by the likes of Tony Parker and Richard Jefferson.

In conclusion, I don’t read too deeply into a 84-88 loss to the Bulls on the road or a 96-102 loss to the Jazz on the road; those are games against tough, playoff-caliber teams in tough, playoff-like atmospheres. But double-digit losses at Staples Center in highly-anticipated games are both disappointing and alarming; as defending champions, I expect you to rise to the occasion for these games and tell these challengers to know their roles.

2. If you were coaching this team, what would you do to jump-start it at this point?

Besides tinkering with different lineup combinations, I would demand that both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum each get 10+ shot attempts per game. I think the Lakers’ biggest advantage is their team size and length, but they don’t seem to be exploiting that like they should. During this recent stretch, the Lakers start games out by going to the post but quickly go away from it in favor of one-on-one perimeter basketball. Gasol attempted less than 10 shots in four of the past five games and in the loss to Memphis did not attempt a single free throw; it was the first time all season Gasol did not reach the charity stripe and that is simply inexcusable. The team has two seven-footers and it’s time to start taking advantage of their height and skill.

3. Does Kobe Bryant need to do more, or does he need to do something differently? Explain.

I think Kobe needs to focus on getting his teammates involved first and foremost even if it means losing a game or two simply because he refused to “take over.” When Kobe bails the team out like he did in the third quarter against Memphis, I think it only provides a short-term solution. Remember when Kobe infamously boycotted his teammates during a game and did not shoot the ball? Perhaps something like that is in order simply to send a message.

Facts are facts and everyone needs to know that the Lakers are only 8-9 when Kobe shoots 20 or more times in a game; meanwhile, the Lakers are 15-2 when he shoots less than 20 times.

4. Which team is the most formidable threat to the Lakers in the West and why?

Well, it’s hard to argue against the Spurs here. They are a complete team that is well coached and dominates at home, where they are likely to have home court advantage if the standings remain this way the rest of the way. Tim Duncan is a leader who has won it all before and still has the skills to perform in big games. The Spurs have tough, physical, and athletic players who do the “little things” like DeJuan Blair and George Hill. They have a dynamic point guard in Tony Parker that will give the Lakers defense fits. And they have wing players who can flat out score in Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson.

5. If you were forced to decide right now, will the Lakers win a third straight championship?

As much as I want to say yes, if I were a betting man, I would put my money against it simply because I don’t think the Lakers will have home court advantage and I think the top teams are too talented to defeat in consecutive series on the road. Imagine if the Lakers entered the playoffs near the middle of the pack and had to go through Oklahoma City, Dallas, San Antonio, and Boston or Miami for the championship. It seems like too tall of a task for a team that struggles to find motivation and play consistent basketball on both sides of the court.

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