The Los Angeles Lakers need to make an end-of-year resolution. One that starts now. Before Steve Nash returns.
With a payroll that exceeds $100 million, the Lakers should not be playing like a sub-.500 team. And yet, here they are—losing.
A paramount illustration of said struggles came against a clearly inferior Houston Rockets team. Up 13 with less than 10 minutes left, the Lakers allowed the Rockets to drop 30 points and ultimately win the game.
That can't happen. None of this should be happening, and that includes waiting anxiously by the mess that has become Los Angeles' loss column in hopes that Nash—who is due back in 10-14 days as of December 2nd—will save them.
Simply put, the Lakers need to begin to get their act together now, leading into 2013. Yet with games against New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors, among others, on the horizon, regaining their footing in the standings is not going to be easy.
Will the Lakers be able to keep themselves afloat until Nash returns? Will they be able to head into the New Year without despising themselves?
Will they be able to begin to right an ever-growing list of cumulative wrongs before it's too late?
Let's find out.
All stats in this article are accurate as of December 5th, 2012 unless otherwise noted.
Though the Lakers will continue to be down Steve Blake, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash in this one, the Hornets continue to wage battle without stars Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon.
New Orleans has lost eight of its last 10 coming into this one and is just 2-7 in conference play overall.
Yes, Los Angeles' sorry road record is of some concern, but not against a team who is currently 23rd in points scored per game (93.4) and 18th in points allowed per game (98.4).
Kobe Bryant is bound to be livid one night after falling to the Rockets, and Mike D'Antoni will be damned if Antawn Jamison doesn't continue to strut his stuff for Lakers fans to see.
In other words, victory will come easy to the Lakers in New Orleans.
Prediction: Lakers 111, Hornets 94
Nothing would make a more emphatic statement than if the Lakers were to waltz into the Thunder's house and hit the .500 mark once again.
Unfortunately, that's simply not what Los Angeles is going to do.
Not only has Oklahoma City won six in a row, but it has lost just once in its last 10 games.
In the Thunder, the Lakers will be facing the league's second-most efficient offense at 110.9 points per 100 possessions, as well as an outfit that has lost just twice at home all season.
Toss in Los Angeles' pathetic road record that will still only stand at 2-5 after defeating the Hornets, and you have the makings of a disaster.
The Thunder's starting frontline of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins won't do the Lakers any favors either.
Especially if they're still without Pau Gasol.
Prediction: Thunder 109, Lakers 101
Kobe Bryant is going to have malice in his eyes for this one. Again.
It was the Lakers' meltdown against the Utah Jazz in November that sealed Mike Brown's fate in Los Angeles and prompted Bryant to reveal what has been infamously coined his "Death Stare."
After falling to the Jazz in Utah over a month ago, and fresh off a loss at the hands of the Thunder, Los Angeles is going to be hungry, bordering on desperate.
Expect to see the Lakers run the pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard to death against a team that is currently allowing 47.2 points in the paint per game, the most in the league.
You might even want to hang onto your three-point seat belts, as it wouldn't be surprising to see Kobe exact revenge upon Randy Foye for his previous deep-ball barrage against Los Angeles.
Nash still won't be back just yet, and Gasol's status remains unknown, but depleted or not, the Lakers are not going to let this one get away from them.
Not this time.
Prediction: Lakers 104, Jazz 98
Cleveland is currently allowing 101.2 points per game, which bodes well for a Los Angeles team coached by Mike D'Antoni, as well as one that will have tallied 100 or more points in six straight games by this one.
Kobe Bryant will torch an inexperienced Cavaliers backcourt, and Dwight Howard should help bring one of the year's biggest surprises in Anderson Varejao back down to earth. Expect Antawn Jamison to be play with some extra gusto against his former team as well.
Steve Nash's timetable suggests that he still won't be able to play in Cleveland, but the Lakers won't need him to, as this is a game that they're going to win by an incredibly steep point margin.
One that ensures they hit the .500 mark for the fifth and what the Lakers hope will be the final time this season.
Prediction: Lakers 113, Cavaliers 96
This one's going to be crazy.
Yes, this will mark Mike D'Antoni's first matchup against his former team, but it will also mark the first game that Nash—according to his self-imposed timetable—is eligible to return.
Whether or not he returns, however, may not matter.
Should Nash even be able to start, it's unlikely he instantly clicks with his still-new teammates, the ones he has only seen two games of action alongside.
As if that's not enough, the Lakers are facing what is currently the most efficient offense in the league at 111.3 points scored per 100 possessions. The Knicks also boast the 10th-most efficient defensive attack in the league as well, allowing just 100.7 points per 100 possessions.
Kobe Bryant will obviously have a monstrous night. He'll be playing in his second-most favorite arena, after all.
That said, Dwight Howard will have his hands full going up against Tyson Chander, who has proved to be one of his most formidable pests in the past.
Throw in the bevy of ambiguity that will still surround Nash and Pau Gasol, and this one will be a golden opportunity for the Knicks to assert their dominance, from one powerhouse to another.
Prediction: Knicks 106, Lakers 103
Again, if we are to believe Steve Nash's 10-14 day timetable, this will mark the second opportunity that he has to return.
That said, don't be surprised to see the Lakers hold him out even longer. Not only does his absence from their previous game against New York give them a leg to stand on if they lose, but why rush back a key component for a game against the worst team in the NBA?
The Washington Wizards are second-to-last in points scored per game and are allowing 97.9 per contest, putting them in the latter half of the league in that department as well.
John Wall may or may not have returned by now, but it won't matter to Los Angeles.
The Miami Heat may have dropped a game to the Wizards this season, yet that doesn't mean the Lakers are going to follow suit.
They'll ultimately get a taste of .500 once again.
Prediction: Lakers 103, Wizards 89
This game will mean a whole lot of everything for Los Angeles.
Though it should mark the first time Andrew Bynum is facing his former team, Dwight Howard has as much a chance at going perfect from the foul line for the rest of the season.
What this game should mark, however, is a definitive return for Steve Nash. He will have been eligible to return two games prior, but if we are to believe his timetable, this at least provides some concrete certainty.
We think. Something could go wrong between now and then, in which case Nash would still be on the shelf. Or everything could go according to plan. Finally.
Either way, this matchup provides the Lakers with yet another opportunity to rise above .500.
Don't expect the Philadelphia 76ers to be pushovers without Bynum, though. They allow just 94.6 points per game, the seventh-best mark in the league, and are allowing just 37.9 points in the paint per game to date, fifth-best in the Association.
That said, Kobe Bryant and company are going to need this one. This game will mean everything to a team looking to leave their extended stint in mediocrity behind them.
And, at the risk of sounding too optimistic, it's safe to say Los Angeles gets its wish.
As a side note, while Ryan Anderson will have been eligible to be traded for almost 48 hours by this point, don't expect to see Pau Gasol heading to the Big Easy anytime soon.
Prediction: Lakers 99, Sixers 88
Brace yourselves, because by this point the Charlotte Bobcats may have won 10 games.
Even crazier, Steve Nash should—barring any setbacks—most certainly be back in the lineup.
No matter how impressive the Bobcats will have proved to be by this point, this isn't a game the Lakers are going to lose.
Los Angeles will have returned to the Staples Center after a four-game road trip and be looking to assert its home-court dominance over a clearly inferior opponent.
If it's one thing we've learned from the Lakers' season of turmoil, however, it's that you can't count out any team, even if Los Angeles is in its own house.
That said, predicting Charlotte to walk out of Hollywood with anything more than a demoralizing loss is an insufficient measure of how prepared the Lakers will be at this juncture.
Prediction: Lakers 106, Bobcats 91
Something about this game scares me. Like really scares me.
The Steve Nash-less Lakers trounced the Warriors 101-77 the first time around. But this isn't the same Golden State team.
Not only have the Warriors proved to be a formidable threat at home (6-3 as of December 5th), but they are playing some of the best basketball of recent memory without Andrew Bogut.
Yes, Golden State is only averaging 98.5 points per game while allowing 98.9, but they have managed to win plenty of games. The Lakers have not.
Nash will likely still be attempting to regain his composure, and the Lakers will still have a losing record on the road—likely 5-7—and that's not something that instills a bounty of confidence.
Los Angeles will be riding a three-game winning streak coming in, but something is going to give eventually.
And it's going to give—even after four days of rest—against a surprisingly resourceful Warriors team.
Prediction: Warriors 103, Lakers 101
Revenge is a dish best served by Kobe Bryant.
After falling to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden earlier in the month, the likely Steve Nash-led Lakers will look to distance themselves even further from .500 at home on Christmas Day.
That said, doing so won't prove to be an easy task. Not only has New York established itself as a legitimate contender, but Amar'e Stoudemire is expected to return in time for this game.
Now, this could spell doom or gloom for the Knicks. Should he be inserted into the starting lineup, New York runs the risk of disrupting the starting five's chemistry while on the road. Should he, at the very least, inch his way back by coming off the bench, however, he could provide an unmatchable offensive punch off the pine.
Or he might not be ready at all.
Regardless, Stoudemire or no Stoudemire, the Knicks are not coming out of Tinseltown with a victory.
Yes, the Lakers will be extra motivated at home and following a loss, but the Knicks will be playing the last of a five-game stretch that sees them face playoff contenders in succession.
Which opens the door for Mike D'Antoni to coach his way toward his first victory against his former team.
Prediction: Lakers 109, Knicks 104
The Denver Nuggets are not going to be as much of a pushover this time around.
After torching the Nuggets 122-103 less than a month ago, the closer-to-full-strength Lakers will look to do much of the same as they make their first trip to Denver.
That said, Los Angeles will be fresh off a hard-fought battle against the Knicks, and as a veteran team, will ultimately come out flat against a vengeful Nuggets squad.
Yes, Denver will be coming off a trip of their own after facing the Los Angeles Clippers, but they're younger and can withstand the rigors of a back-to-back better than the Lakers can.
JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos will be looking to shut down Dwight Howard after he carved them up for 28 points previously, and George Karl isn't going to let his team fall asleep again this one.
Simply put, after a huge victory the night before, the Lakers aren't going to have the gas necessary to streak past an exuberant Nuggets squad.
Prediction: Nuggets 117, Lakers 108
The Portland Trail Blazers were the ones who added insult to the Lakers' injury earlier in the season. Literally.
In Los Angeles' first bout against Portland, Steve Nash injured his shin and so began a long journey toward rock bottom.
But Nash should be back for this one, and the Lakers will be looking to trump what has proved to be a roller coaster team in the Blazers.
Damian Lillard will likely torch Nash for plenty of points, but Kobe Bryant will be donning his Sunday best on Friday, looking to put the entire point guard debacle behind he and the Lakers for good.
And that's just what Los Angeles will ultimately do.
By this time, they'll have yet to establish themselves a bona fide contender, but they will be well on their way; they'll be much better off than they were on month prior.
Which is cause for the Blazers to be concerned, as they will be the team that stands between the Lakers and finishing above .500 leading into 2013.
Prediction: Lakers 110, Blazers 99