The Los Angeles Lakers’ early-season struggles have been well-documented. Mike Brown was fired after just five games for attempting to implement a form of the Princeton offense, but the Lakers’ problems have actually been on the defensive end. They rank sixth in offense but just 20th in defense, per basketball-reference.com. However, in recent games, there have been a few encouraging signs.
Howard had back surgery at the end of last season and wasn’t expected to return until sometime in January. He was somehow able to start the season on the court, but he has been a noticeably limited player.
On some nights, he has lacked the explosiveness that made him the most dominant defensive player in the league.
However, over the last several nights, he has been better more often. As we enter January—when he originally would have come back—and move further into the season, Howard’s back should continue to improve.
Back issues are notoriously fickle and chronic, but Howard is only 27, which improves his odds.
The problems have been on the defensive end. Too many possessions end with easy layups or open jumpers.
One of the problems there has been Howard—he was expected to be the player who was the Defensive Player of the Year three years in a row. Ideally, as his health hopefully returns, so will his defensive presence.
But just as big a problem has been the lack of effort and rotations. So much of defense is effort, and much of the time the Lakers simply don’t rotate properly, allowing for wide-open layups.
Recently, they have shown stretches of high energy and high effort, where defensive stops come in bunches. But then things get out of hand again. If they can find that consistency, things should be better.
The presence of Steve Nash has made a significant difference. Before Nash returned from injury against Golden State on December 22, the offense often looked stagnant because there was no way to get them out of slumps without Kobe Bryant going to “hero ball.”
Now, however, there is another primary ball-handler who his capable of making plays. Beginning with the Golden State game, the Lakers have at least looked interested and energized—a huge step up from before.
The Lakers, following Sunday’s loss to the Denver Nuggets, are 15-18. Even if they get their season turned around soon, their hole may be too deep to climb out of.
For a team that fancies itself a championship contender, it should not be resorting to “effort improvements” in January.
In the end, although they do look better than they did at the beginning of the season, this season has to be counted as a disastrous disappointment.