The Los Angeles Lakers are in need of a big change after completing what turned out to be an extremely strange week. Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum helped the Lakers win big games, but the team also dropped winnable games while tension grows between management and players as rumors surround Pau Gasol and the rest of the Lakers.
Lack of Consistency
They started and ended the week with big home wins over the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics, but in between, they lost to both the Detroit Pistons and the Washington Wizards, as well as barely holding off the Minnesota Timberwolves.
By beating the Heat and Celtics, the obvious two best teams out of those five games, the Lakers blew a big opportunity to sweep this week and start a seven-game winning streak. All three were games on the road and played three games in four days, but the Wizards and Pistons are among the bottom of the league.
Two wins against the Pistons and Wizards would have given the Lakers a 27-14 record—good for a three-game lead on the Los Angeles Clippers in the Pacific Division—and closed the gap between the San Antonio Spurs for the second seed in the Western Conference.
Since even before the year started, the Lakers have been surrounded by trade rumors like no other NBA team, including the Orlando Magic. If it wasn't a trade for Chris Paul, it was a trade for Dwight Howard, for Kyle Lowry or for Rajon Rondo.
There is no question that the rumors have affected the Lakers on the court and caused tension between players and management. Thursday marks the trade deadline and will likely bring about answers for the Lakers' players.
Whether it's a blockbuster trade to bring in another superstar, a less flashy trade to bring in another role player or the Lakers stand pat with the team they have, they will need to quickly turn the page and change their attitudes and focus towards winning instead of worrying about what uniform they could be wearing.
Fourth Quarter Shooting
In the Lakers' two losses this week, they struggled in the fourth quarter. Against the Pistons, they were outscored 24-17 after leading the game through three quarters. It was a similar story against the Washington Wizards, when the Lakers were outscored 25-18 after also leading after three quarters in that game.
Bryant struggled mightily from the floor in the fourth quarters of those games. Although possessing other main offensive output, the Lakers need to be able to survive and stay in games in which Bryant does not shoot the ball well, which leads to the next reason a big change is needed.
Kobe Bryant and Fatigue
At this point in his career, even with his surgically repaired knee, there is no denying that fatigue is sure to be a factor for the 33-year old Bryant.
"Everyone played a little tired," Bryant said following the Lakers collapse against the Pistons. Bryant was ultimately able to muster up enough strength to hit a buzzer-beater to send the game to overtime, but the Lakers faltered during the five minute overtime.
With Bryant's age a factor during the hectic scheduling due to the lockout, the Lakers can't rely on Bryant to be their savior every single night.
How to Move On
With the trade deadline approaching, a big change could be in store for the Lakers, with Gasol possibly being dealt or another move possibly in the cards to legitimize the Lakers as contenders in the West.
The Lakers can also improve significantly without having to make a blockbuster trade. The big change needed in LA is running the offense through Andrew Bynum on a more consistent basis. While Bryant will still get his shots, the Lakers need to feed their big man and wear down teams with Bynum.
Taking pressure off of Bryant through the first three quarters of the game will Bryant to stay fresher in the fourth quarter and down the stretch of a crazy and grueling season.