Numerous theories have been advanced on the Lakers’ recent losses, which have dropped them to the second echelon of Western Conference playoff teams.
The theories range from injuries to lack of concentration to anything else that enters the minds of fans and talk show hosts.
I don’t think many of these theories have merit. I think the Lakers have merely found their level and have the record a team with their deficiencies can expect.
I’m not alone in this thinking. I can assure you it is the consensus of experts I talk to on a regular basis in the Staples Center press room – NBA scouts, some retired coaches, media folks who have worked in the NBA for many years.
I share with them the experience of being through the 82-game schedule year after year – long enough to learn what is necessary for success.
Most winning teams have either a guard who can prevent the opponent from penetrating the defense, a shot blocker who rules the middle or both.
The Lakers have neither.
So, instead of lamenting the recent slide than consists of eight losses in 11 games, fans should be realizing Phil Jackson did a remarkable coaching job to keep the Lakers near the top of the conference early in the season.
The Lakers were given a remarkable schedule that consisted of very little travel for three months. They had precious time to practice, they could prepare for games, they didn’t have the fatigue that comes with the usual schedule.
Of course it had to catch up to them because every team ends up playing 41 home games and 41 on the road.
An eight-game trip began the Lakers’ slide and the predictable problems developed. Losing and dealing with the travel brought on side issues. Lamar Odom and Sasha Vujacic argued, Jackson and Brian Cook had a problem, Luke Walton and Kwame Brown were hurt.
Then Vladimir Radmanovic damaged a shoulder snowboarding during the all-star break. He’s been fined $500,000 and isn’t likely to be any help the rest of the season.
And finally, Odom damaged a shoulder when fouled by Sacramento center Brad Miller.
The Lakers developed a habit of rising to the occasion against quality teams and losing to ones with poor records. Although overconfidence or a lack of concentration might be factors in some games; another explanation is that if you’re not sound defensively you can lose to anyone.
New Orleans beat the Lakers because Chris Paul easily penetrated their defense. Portland beat the Lakers twice because Jarrett Jack, another swift point guard, operated without being contained.
Most recently the Lakers gave up 116 points in a loss to Sacramento. It was no coincidence the Kings were led by their point guard, Mike Bibby, who had 33 points.
The Lakers have been restricted by the league’s salary cap the last few seasons, so they haven’t significantly upgraded their roster. They’ll be $20 million under the cap next summer and could bring in some important talent. But the players they targeted originally – Yao Ming, Amare Stoudamire and LeBron James – have all signed new contracts to stay with their teams.
The Lakers’ greatest need is a guard who can successfully pressure the opponent. Kobe Bryant is too busy performing other tasks. Smush Parker has shown he isn’t the man for the job and with his contract expiring he isn’t likely to be signed again. Jordan Farmar has brought offensive skills from UCLA but is so deficient at stopping penetration his playing time has been reduced.
In the years when Magic Johnson was leading the Lakers to championships his backcourt partner, Byron Scott, had the job of stopping the opposing point guard. Scott was 6-foot-4, strong and a willing worker. The Lakers need someone like him now.
Despite their recent troubles the Lakers are currently sixth in the West – good enough to make the playoffs. They’ll probably get San Antonio in the first round and they’ll be a considerable underdog. They’ll need Bryant to take over games and Jackson to do some masterful coaching. In last season’s first round an underdog Laker team threw a scare into Phoenix. If the Lakers can regroup down the stretch they won’t fall any lower. And considering their problems, fans should be thankful they’re as high as they are.