LOS ANGELES — Congratulations to the Lakers for their almost-comeback win over the Clippers Friday night, losing 107-102 in the latest edition of “The Battle of Los Angeles.”
Now let’s talk about why it was virtually meaningless.
Already 32 games into a mind-numbing season, a “near comeback victory” means nothing. The Lakers are 15-17 and are 11th in the Western Conference standings. That translates to three slots out of a playoff berth, two games behind Denver for the last spot in the West. They need wins, not almosts.
Right now, there’s still plenty of time to jump over three teams and get into the postseason. But that’s only if they make major offensive changes that impact a defense that gives up the fifth-most points per game in the NBA. Only Houston, Phoenix, Dallas and Sacramento give up more.
How does the offense make the defense better? By giving up on the idea that they can push the ball and settle into an offense that features Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. And let Steve Nash be the coach on the floor and decide who gets the shots and where.
If they play more of a set offense it will likely cut down on their scoring, but it will also help the defense give up fewer points because they won’t be trying — futilely — to run the ball and use up the energy it takes to even attempt it. Players — starters and reserves alike — will be fresher and will play defense more consistently, and probably give up fewer points in the paint.
The roster is loaded with guys who have a lot of basketball mileage on them — but no team in the league has a pair of post players with the skills of Howard and Gasol, and it’s mind-boggling to see their talents wasted on Mike D’Antoni’s fantasy. Gasol scored just two points Friday night, tying his career-low that came in the third game of his NBA career. Now 22 games into D’Antoni’s tenure with the Lakers — his record is 10-12 — he continues to believe this can be a team that runs the ball and hoists up quick shots a majority of the time.
The key to having a true running offense is rebounding and firing off outlet passes that lead to fast-break baskets. The Lakers don’t — or won’t — do this, and you can’t run successfully if your big men aren’t rebounding and getting the ball up the court. With 50 games left in the season, this team has proven it can’t run successfully, so it’s time to scrap what doesn’t work and let Howard, Gasol, Bryant and Nash do what they’ve done best throughout their careers — win games.
How, you ask?
Slow down the offense and let Nash run the pick and roll with Howard and/or Gasol, or get the ball to Kobe for an open shot. Nash could even keep the ball and take a few more shots himself. Putting up just four shots as he did against the Clippers on Friday night is ludicrous. He’s one of the greatest percentage shooters ever.
Nash is also a future Hall of Fame point guard and there’s no doubt that he makes great decisions when he has the ball in his hands. He’ll figure out a way to correct the spacing problems between Howard and Gasol when they’re in the game at the same time — even if the coaches can’t. He’ll know which guy can get a better shot down low, and he’ll make sure they both get enough touches in the paint to make an impact every night. He’ll get the ball to Bryant in the best possible position to shoot or take it to the basket. And he’ll turn a very mediocre team into one that might be able to do some damage once the playoffs roll around.
It can only happen, though, if D’Antoni admits he misjudged the ability of this group to run and gun, then switch to a more conventional offense that uses the superb roster of talent he inherited. If he doesn’t, the Lakers will be in danger of not making the playoffs for just the second time in 19 seasons.
And the Clippers will be in position to become L.A.’s best basketball team.