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5 Reasons the L.A. Lakers Aren't Making the NBA Playoffs This Year

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 7, 2013

5 Reasons the L.A. Lakers Aren't Making the NBA Playoffs This Year

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    With L.A. now sitting three games under .500 after a Jan. 6 loss to the Denver Nuggets, the playoff chances for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers look increasingly slim.

    It seems like nothing has gone right for L.A. since the season began. And now, playing for their third coach in two months and checking in as the Western Conference's 11th-best team, the Lakers are running out of time.

    Maybe Kobe Bryant will start deferring to his teammates more, and perhaps Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard will suddenly shake off the injuries that seem to have sapped their respective strength. Those changes, and a great many more, will have to take place in short order for the Lakers to keep their sinking ship afloat.

    At this point, there's just no reason to believe the Lakers have what it takes to shake themselves out of their season-long funk. There's just too much evidence to the contrary.

    And if their downward spiral continues, what was once unthinkable will become reality: The Los Angeles Lakers aren't going to make the NBA playoffs this year.

    Here are the five biggest reasons why.

Defense

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    If you aren't a fan of numbers, just about any cursory examination will tell you that the Lakers are a poor defensive team.

    The guards do a horrible job of containing penetration and the big men are too slow or unaware to rotate when they have to help out.

    A huge reason for the Lakers' defensive struggles is Dwight Howard's slow recovery from April back surgery. His "just a half-step slow" rotations are nothing like the cat-quick ones he used to make in Orlando.

    On the rare occasions that Howard does get to his help position in time, the Laker guards have been absolutely awful at rotating down to "help the helper," resulting in tons of easy buckets for Howard's man inside.

    The stats show just how bad the Lakers have been on D this year, too. L.A. is No. 18 in defensive efficiency.

    Finally, we can't leave the discussion of defense without pointing the finger at Kobe Bryant. Despite his sterling reputation, there's no getting around the fact that he has been flat-out lazy on D all season. Just watch the clip above and you'll notice his total lack of defensive commitment.

    A few simple passes around the perimeter and Bryant is completely lost.

    This type of thing just shouldn't be happening to a veteran team, no matter how unfamiliar the players are with each other.

    Top to bottom, the Lakers defense is killing them.

Chemistry

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    According to Kobe Bryant, there are too many alpha dogs in the Lakers' kennel. The recent war of words between Bryant and Dwight Howard revealed the chemistry issues that have plagued the Lakers in recent weeks.

    Locker-room tensions aside, the Lakers aren't doing a very good job of getting along on the court, either. The basketball isn't moving like it should be, as evidenced by L.A.'s 22nd-ranked assist ratio.

    But it's more than that.

    There's a strange feeling of discomfort among the Lakers, especially when the Big Four are on the court together. Maybe it's the fact that they're struggling to learn the nuances of yet another new offense, or maybe it's just a matter of the pieces not fitting together like everyone hoped.

    Either way, it certainly looks like the Lakers don't like playing with one another.

    Because of the infighting off the court, and the lack of chemistry on it, there's little reason to believe L.A. can come together in time to make the postseason.

Age

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    Dwight Howard is the Lakers' youngest key piece, but even he moves around the floor like he's much older than his 27 years. 

    Steve Nash is 38 and Pau Gasol is 32, going on 50. The only guy who doesn't look particularly aged is the 34-year-old Kobe Bryant, but he's making up for his youthful on-court appearance with a crankiness that most senior citizens would be proud of.

    The raw number of birthdays doesn't necessarily matter, but the things that come with them do.

    Gasol has clearly broken down, and the miles on Steve Nash's tires probably contributed to his prolonged absence with a fractured fibula. As players age, they simply don't recover as fast.

    Howard knows all about that, as he has struggled unsuccessfully to round into form. But his back just won't cooperate.

    And it's not like these guys are going to get healthier as the season wears on. Especially if the Lakers bench continues to be totally unproductive. With nothing coming from the reserves, the aging starters have been pressed into increased duty. Obviously, heavier minutes only compound the problems that come with age.

    Without a significant change in the roster, this Lakers team isn't getting any younger. And that's a huge problem.

Coaching

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    Well, the Princeton offense didn't work, and that got Mike Brown fired.

    Now, the Lakers can't seem to get anything right under new coach Mike D'Antoni, either.

    Perhaps the most confounding aspect of D'Antoni's tenure as coach has been his insistence on stationing Pau Gasol 25 feet away from the basket on offense. Bryant has spoken out about how Gasol needs touches on the block and at the elbows, but to no avail.

    Instead of utilizing the Spaniard near the bucket, where his excellent post-up game and terrific facilitating skills could be put to good use, Gasol roams around the perimeter like a glorified Matt Bonner. The difference, of course, being that Gasol isn't a knockdown shooter.

    His slow release and obvious hesitance to launch from long range make D'Antoni's strategic decision all the stranger.

    It's one thing if Howard and Nash haven't yet worked out the timing of the pick-and-roll. That's understandable. But it's quite another when D'Antoni strands Gasol in an area where he has no chance to be effective.

    Oh, and have we mentioned yet how poorly the Lakers have been playing on defense? A huge portion of the blame for that also has to rest with the coach.

    There's no getting around it, D'Antoni is failing on virtually every front as the Lakers coach. If Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers management weren't so wary of looking doubly incompetent after rashly firing Brown, you can bet they would have canned D'Antoni a long time ago.

Time

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    The final reason why the Lakers are in danger of missing the playoffs is the simplest one.

    They're running out of time.

    It sounds strange to say that in January, with more than half of the season yet to be played, but the hole is only getting deeper.

    There are presently 10 teams ahead of the Lakers in the Western Conference, and with just 15 wins on the season so far, L.A. must go 30-19 the rest of the way to reach 45 wins.

    That victory total might be just enough to sneak into the playoffs, but even that scenario requires the Lakers to jump over teams that they simply might not be better than.

    And considering L.A.'s next three games are against a trio of the West's best teams (Houston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City), the Lakers could be looking at a 15-21 record before they get a chance to face some easier competition.

    Most importantly, every other reason we've touched on factors in here.

    Time is running out for them to figure out how to defend, to establish chemistry and to get healthy. If everything suddenly snaps into place in a couple of weeks, it might still be too late.

    Believe it, folks; the Lakers are getting dangerously close to some time off...while eight other West teams compete in the postseason.

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