The Los Angeles Lakers have had quite the busy offseason and given the state of the roster, the team needs to establish its dominance early in the season if they are to be taken seriously.
With Steve Nash running the point and Dwight Howard manning the middle, there really isn't any reason that the Lakers shouldn't get past the conference semis, or even win a championship in 2013. To put it bluntly, the Lakers team right now is one that has the potential to put Miami's Big Three to absolute shame, from the starting lineup to the bench.
However, the roster is just a group of names on a piece of paper. In order for the team to succeed, each and every player must play his hardest and put up good numbers. In the Lakers' case, showing any sort of rust at the start of the season is unacceptable.
The Western Conference is tough as it is and just one or two lazy games could mean the playoffs.
Thus, the Lakers need to make their statement early. The rest of the league may be writing them off as old and over the hill. Kobe Bryant is no spring chicken and Metta World Peace is starting to look like the poster boy of the amnesty clause, but coach Mike Brown needs to start gathering the firewood now that training camp is about to start.
By establishing certain goals and instituting a couple of changes, he and his Lakers will own their conference early—and not let go of it for the balance of the season.
For the past eight years, Steve Nash played in a fast-paced offense that focused on ball movement and long-range shooting.
Now that he's playing for Mike Brown (as opposed to Mike D'Antoni or Alvin Gentry), chances are he will have to get used to a slower and more isolated style of play. Sure, he's one of the best point guards in NBA history and a definite Hall of Famer, but a sudden change like this could very well hamper his production.
Let's compare the Lakers' current starting lineup with some of the Phoenix teams Nash directed. Apart from him being a hot-shooting and pass-happy guard, there was also another guard who could score, along with an explosive big man or two.
Such is the case with the Lakers' starters this year.
That being said, Brown should consider using a fast-paced offense—not for every minute of every game, but just every so often. Opposing teams are not used to the Lakers being so fast; if this uptempo style was brought out of the bag at strategic points in games, it would give the Lakers that extra push needed to bring home the win.
Of course, the sooner in the season this happens, the more dangerous the team will ultimately be.
Though Laker fans were surely overcome with excitement when GM Mitch Kupchak acquired Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic, news of Howard's health that came trickling in after the trade had to have been a rude awakening.
While the three-time Defensive Player of the Year will do fine work for the Lakers, it should be noted that he has been recovering from back surgery since April. In fact, most reports state that Howard will miss the start of the season as he continues his recovery.
However, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times, Howard has resumed basketball drills and appears to be in near-playing shape. Though he won't be available for the Lakers' first preseason game on October 7, this latest news has to be an encouraging sign.
Though being without him for a game or two wouldn't devastate the team, a healthy Howard ready to start the regular season would be a great pick-me-up for the Lakers. This way, they'll be able to showcase the new look team from the get-go and not have to hope that Howard returns to full strength some point later in the season.
The Lakers open the regular season on October 30, at home against the Dallas Mavericks.
This game is sure to be full of tough defense and some hard play, as some animosity from that fateful game in the 2011 playoffs may still exist. Adding to the intensity of this game is the fact that it will be on national television, which always stirs the adrenaline pot a bit more.
However, let's not forget that—as the Lakers improved their team over the summer—the Mavericks also beefed up their roster. They once again have a quality center in Chris Kaman, who will play some tough defense as well as provide help in the scoring department.
On top of that, O.J. Mayo is now on board to help star forward Dirk Nowitzki shoulder some of the scoring load. The team also has two talented rookies in forward Jae Crowder and center Bernard James, both of whom should get their fair share of playing time this season.
That said, though this opening game is sure to be a fight to the finish, the Lakers need to have one mantra from the opening tip to the final buzzer. While the Mavericks had a good summer and have put together a very good team, the Lakers are still the better team.
Though the Lakers have ruled the roost in Los Angeles for decades, their rival Clippers have quickly gone from being lovable losers to a winning powerhouse known as Lob City.
With a fast-paced offense led by point guard Chris Paul and high-flying forward Blake Griffin, the Clippers finished the 2011-12 season as the No. 5 seed in the West and advanced to the conference semifinals, where they lost to the San Antonio Spurs.
This year, after adding the likes of Jamal Crawford and former Laker Lamar Odom, it's clear that the Clippers are ready to improve upon last season and usurp the Lakers as the top team in town.
Simply put, the Lakers need to let the Clippers know that they still own L.A. and aren't giving up the city without a fight. In fact, their third game of the season is against the Clippers, so they'll have a chance to deliver that message early.
Both teams are loaded with talent and it has the potential to be a close match until the very end, but if Kobe Bryant and Co. can come out of this game with a win, it may be enough to take some of the wind out of Lob City's sails.
Is the preseason meaningless? Yes. Is it a time for teams' starters to get a handful of minutes and then let the reserves take over? Absolutely.
However, allow me to ask this. Are preseason games throwaway games? Answer: absolutely not.
Though the Lakers should have their stars rested for the full 82-game regular season, Mike Brown needs to view his roster as something of a dream team. In other words, everyone needs to get equal playing time in the preseason, though not at the expense of losing a game just for the sake of resting the regulars.
Keep in mind, the Lakers' preseason runs from Oct. 7 to Oct. 25 and features games against the following teams: the Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings (three times), Utah Jazz (twice) and the Los Angeles Clippers. Only two of those squads are playoff teams, and Utah just barely made the postseason. Under regular circumstances, these are games that the Lakers should win.
Thus, while resting the stars is very important in the preseason, Brown must give his starters more minutes than he normally would—maybe just enough so that the score would be out of reach early.
You see, by going undefeated in the preseason, the Lakers will make their message ring loud and clear— that they're a tough team and defeating them is going to be anything but a walk in the park. For all we know, that approach could get some opposing teams on their heels long before even facing the Lakers.
No matter how you look at it, it's an experiment worth trying. If it works, then Laker fans will have a million more reasons to smile once the regular season begins.