As each day passes, I am more inclined to believe the Lakers are banking on the roster they have to get them to the Promised Land (the NBA Finals) in June.
Having played the most games to start this young season, the older Lakers, hobbled by injuries and the absence of four key players (Steve Blake, Jason Kapono, Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy), have still managed to win four straight heading into their home game tonight against the Cleveland Cavaliers and a Saturday showdown on the “road” against the emerging Clippers.
Kobe Bryant has played like a man possessed, going off for 48 and 40 in wins over Phoenix and Utah. If Bryant is the seventh-best player in the league, as determined in a random ranking by ESPN.com and TrueHoop Network, then you probably believe gas will cost less than $2 this summer.
Bryant is averaging a league leading 30.3 points on 46 percent shooting with six assists and six rebounds - 36.6 points per game over his last six.
If he ranks behind LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant, then you are just as likely to think the earth is flat, cricket is an exciting sport, and Hostess cupcakes are a wholesome snack.
Just ask the Phoenix Suns. "He's the best player in the game,” said future Hall of Fame guard Steve Nash to the L.A. Times following Kobe’s 48-point performance. “You come to expect that type of performance from him, if not regularly, then throughout the season at different times. He was phenomenal."
The Lakers sit at 8-4, one game ahead of the Clippers in the Pacific Division. And although they seem to be meshing more as a unit, Bryant and company are still driving fans and sportswriters crazy with their erratic play and alarming number of turnovers.
Consider that in their eight-point win against Memphis, they committed an appalling 27 turnovers...and through 12 games, they were averaging 17 per contest.
The Lakers must also defend better against the plethora of quick, penetrating point guards in the league. L.A. does not appear to have an answer for opposing point guards who burn them with pick-and-rolls off high screens.
Players like Chris Paul (Clippers), Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City), Dwyane Wade (Miami), Deron Williams (Nets), Ray Felton (Trail Blazers), and Derrick Rose (Bulls) make life miserable for the Lakers tandem of Derrick Fisher and Steve Blake.
Chris Paul would have been a tremendous addition and answered those questions. That fiasco is history and he’s now a Clipper. I still maintain that trying to obtain Aaron Brooks when he returns from China should be a top priority. I like Darius Morris but feel he is 2-3 years away from being ready.
The Lakers have been a terrible three-point shooting team since the season began on Christmas Day.
They went out and got help in the form of Jason Kapono (36 percent) and Troy Murphy (30 percent), both of whom had solid reputations for hitting from long range. Neither has been as advertised and as a team, L.A. is connecting on just 24 percent from three-point territory.
Metta World Peace has made less than 10 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc; no, that is not a typo. Matt Barnes is at 33 percent from long distance and Kobe, who can be excused due to the injury to his hand, is at 20 percent.
The hope is that Blake, Barnes, Murphy, Kapono and World Peace will find their collective long-range rhythm. Possible roster moves are to jettison World Peace and Luke Walton, but Coach Mike Brown loves the former for his defense and the latter for his basketball IQ.
Many of these problems are connected: the Lakers are getting killed when teams transition quickly off of a missed long-distance shot.
Players are not getting back, and faster teams are getting a lot of easy buckets by cheating and letting one of their five players move towards the other basket when a Lakers player fires from the perimeter.
Some will argue with me and ask how I can possibly pick on a team that is 8-4 and leading their division. My answer is that the Los Angeles Lakers do not play to win divisions or conferences; they play to win NBA titles.
And unless they address some rather acute issues on both offense and defense, their chances of getting to and capturing title No. 17 are not great.
This is a team that seems hungry to succeed. Their overtime win at Utah was gutsy and it was a pleasure to see Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol assert themselves at the end and actually play key roles in the victory. The Lakers need their supporting cast to win championships.
L.A. should easily dispatch the Cavaliers tonight and then prepare to do battle with the revitalized Clippers on Saturday.
Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan will give the Lakers all they can handle; let’s see if they are up to the test.