In a season that started with the promise of four All-Stars joining together on a championship quest, the Los Angeles Lakers stumbled through their first big test of the season. Despite their troubles, the Lakers problems are fixable.
Losses are just that, but the Lakers going 0-4 against some of the best teams in the NBA is not as disheartening as it seems.
In their first test, the Lakers played the surging Houston Rockets. Playing without three of their big men, including Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, the Lakers took a big early lead against the Houston Rockets. The Lakers let their lead slip away with weak transition and perimeter defense. The Lakers bench was outscored 44-30. In a 125-112 loss, the Lakers let a winnable game slip through their fingers in the second half. If the Lakers had closed out on Carlos Delfino and gotten back as a team on defense, this game could have easily gone the other way.
A day later, the Lakers played a terrific game against the San Antonio Spurs, although they were mostly playing from behind. In a 108-105 loss, the Lakers played short-handed, again, without their big men. The Lakers were offensively aggressive, relentlessly penetrating the Spurs defense. Earl Clark came through with a 22-point and 13-rebound performance off the bench to give L.A. a frontcourt presence. Even though the 32-11 Spurs are having an amazing season, the 17-23 Lakers played them extremely tough, again indicating that the more the Lakers use their youth, the better they seem to play.
Spurs v Lakers Highlights:
On Friday of that week, the Lakers faced the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season. In that series, the Thunder blew past the Lakers with their speed and athleticism. In the Thunder’s 116-101 victory, the Lakers played the Thunder even until late in the second quarter. But, weak defense and poor offense led to another sound Lakers defeat. In the game, Durant smoked the Lakers for 42 points, and Russell Westbrook had 27 points and 10 assists. Once again, L.A. played without their big men, but they hung in the game. Lakers offense struggled in the third quarter, especially, because the Lakers are relied on low percentage shots. If they had driven the ball and forced it inside like they did against the Spurs, the final score might have been closer.
The next Thursday, the Lakers first test culminated with a close loss to the Miami Heat, 99-90, even with the returns of Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. The reigning champion Heat turned the Lakers over, exploiting one of L.A.’s major weaknesses, turnovers. Despite forcing the Lakers into 16 turnovers in the first half, the Heat were down by one at the half. The loss came down, in part, to too much LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, who combined for 66, equally the scoring total for the entire Lakers starting lineup. In the loss, the Lakers offense finally looked like it was coming together—there was ball movement and people were looking for the open man. That is the silver lining for the Lakers in the loss, and maybe something they can look to build on.
Heat v Lakers Highlights:
The Lakers should be enthused as one can be about going 0-4 against the top teams because they not only played well against the best, but they played without two key pieces, their big men, Howard and Gasol, in all but the Heat game. Playing short-handed may have been the best thing to happen to the Lakers all season. It turns out they have a better bench than some of us thought, and they can run, at least a little.
While the Lakers certainly have the talent and basketball I.Q. to put together a competitive team, many of us question whether or not they can turn it around before it is too late.
Rob S. De France is a College and University Instructor of English Composition living in Los Angeles. He has a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Rhetoric and Composition. De France has played, coached, and officiated competitive high school basketball in California for many years. Recently, De France, his wife, and another colleague started an internationally read magazine at Shwibly.com.