Kiki's NBA cuts (Jan. 7)
Trouble with the Lakers
Everybody has an opinion on what the Lakers troubles are. Most point toward the defensive end and lack of commitment and effort. Head coach Mike D'Antoni thinks it is difficult to put a finger on any one trouble spot. The players seem confused and lack a sense of urgency. A sense of urgency is clearly needed at this point in their season. It seems like a great deal of things have gone wrong in a very short period of time. Let's see if we can make some sense out of this.
When things are very confusing and you cannot see the forest for all the trees, it is important to go back to the beginning. Basketball is a very simple game and the best teams keep it that way. You must look at your strength and your weaknesses, maximizing the former and minimizing the latter.
The Lakers have two tremendously talented seven footers, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. They have an aging but brilliant point guard, Steve Nash. Then they have the most cutthroat game winner on the planet, Kobe Bryant. The Lakers bench is anemic and they seem to have real focus issues. They are also an older team that is not completely healthy.
This may be not the perfect mix but certainly one good enough to be seriously competitive.
With two 7-foot players the caliber of Howard and Gasol, the Lakers should own the paint. That should be a primary concern before anything else. In recent games, they have been outscored in the paint and this is unacceptable. They are currently 13th in the league in points in the paint, averaging 41.6, while ranking 20th in opponents paint points at 42.1. The Lakers should take a page out of San Antonio's old playbook when they had Tim Duncan and David Robinson roaming the middle. They all but eliminated scoring inside the paint for the other team. This included offensive rebounds and layups. It is a proven fact that if a team cannot get offensive rebounds and second chance points and it severely limits the number of layups, a team has great difficulty winning.
If nothing else changed but this one that area of focus, the Lakers would be a championship-caliber team today.
The Lakers also need to realize who and what they are. None of their superstars want to play a breakneck fast-break style of basketball. Their age and talents do not favor such a style. D'Antoni's specialty is uptempo and this is okay as long as it is under a controlled pace. Also Dwight Howard must be a focal point in the half court. To do this the Lakers must give him time to set up in the post. A high-low game with Gasol and Howard would be a nice touch.
Playing basketball from the inside out, especially when you have dominant big players, is always the way to go.
The Lakers’ superstars almost seem to have too much respect for one another. This was a problem for Miami when they first brought together LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It wasn't until they decided to stop deferring to each other and just play the game that made each one great, that they won a championship. The Lakers need to follow this same path, throwing caution to the wind, put egos in check and get down and dirty in the paint.
If they do this, they could be one of the best teams in the league. If they don't, their playoff hopes -- forget about championships -- will be down the drain. This is a big week facing playoff teams Houston and San Antonio on the road in back-to-back games and Oklahoma City back home. This week could very easily dictate the future for this current Lakers team.
Portland's Damian Lillard seems to be the runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year. He is averaging 18.2 points per game and 6.4 assists. He is leading rookies in minutes per game at 37.9, free-throw percentage (.844) and also second in steals at 1.03. He is playing with savvy basketball well beyond his years and looks to be the standout player of his class for many years to come.
Also having excellent rookie seasons are Cleveland's Dion Waiters -- 14.2 PPG, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis (14.1 PPG/8.7 rebounds), Washington's Bradley Beal (12.9 PPG), Minnesota's Alexey Shved (11.1 PPG/4.6 assists), Charlotte's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (10.8 PPG).
Others worth mentioning; Detroit's Kyle Singler, Golden State's Harrison Barnes, and Detroit's Andre Drummond are all developing very nicely.
The Dallas Mavericks perennial All-Star Dirk Nowitzki is rounding into form after missing the first 27 games of the season with an injured knee. He just had his first 20-point game in Saturday’s loss to New Orleans. The Mavericks do not have much else this season but with a healthy Dirk, their fortunes may just turn around quickly. You might be able to pick him up on the cheap and his numbers were surely return to his normal. Dirk's career averages are 22.8 points per game, 8.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists.
Game of the week
The Lakers play the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday and the Lakers season could well be in the balance. The Thunder currently own the best record in the West by a slim margin over the Los Angeles Clippers. The Thunder is a young, talented, battle tested playoff team and the Lakers, although great on paper, have not lived up to expectations. Losing this week could put an end to the Lakers' playoff hopes this year.