Can LA Lakers Compensate for Star Injuries and Save Lost Season?
It's hard to pinpoint any specific loss as being overly costly for the 15-18 Los Angeles Lakers.
But their latest defeat, a 112-105 loss at the hands of the Denver Nuggets on January 6, left the club with more than the typical morning after sting.
During the game, the Lakers' frontcourt was decimated by injury. By the time the final whistle blew, L.A. was without starting center Dwight Howard (torn labrum in his right shoulder), starting power forward Pau Gasol (concussion) and reserve big man Jordan Hill (right hip).
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni told the Associated Press after the game, "It's kind of weird coming to work thinking you have three centers, and all three of them are hurt on the same day," (via NYTimes.com).
Not sure if "weird" is the first word that came to mind when I first heard about the injuries. More like damned by the basketball gods.
Considering that Howard has been hampered all season by the lingering effects of an April 2012 back surgery, his departure might have seemed like a blessing in disguise. His 17.3 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game have masked his limitations to a degree, but anyone who's watched Superman dominate the interior over the years could see that he wasn't close to being 100 percent.
But having Gasol and Hill as casualties in the same game has left this already hobbled club staggering.
Seldom used rookie Robert Sacre had his D-League stint halted abruptly with a call up not just to the NBA, but into the Lakers starting lineup for their matchup with the 20-14 Houston Rockets on January 8.
Even the most diehard Gonzaga supporters have to cringe at the thought of Sacre as the sole protector of the Lakers' paint with penetrating professionals Jeremy Lin and James Harden on the horizon.
Of course, these injuries are a concern for more than just the Houston game. Early reports tab both Howard and Gasol as being sidelined indefinitely, while Hill's timetable was still undetermined as the team awaited results of his January 7 examination.
With 3.5 games already separating the Lakers from the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and matchups with the Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder looming before the week's end, this is a point of no return for L.A.'s other team.
From Steve Nash's injury to Mike Brown's firing and all the way through the team's rocky coaching search, this club is no stranger to adversity.
But just being familiar with adversity does not mean this club is ready to embrace it.
Can the Lakers rebound from this latest string of injuries?
Kobe Bryant has been masterful during his improbable MVP-caliber season at the age of 34 (30.5 points per game on 48.1 percent shooting from the field), but how much more can he accomplish with three (literally) giant pieces missing from his team's rotation?
More importantly, who is worthy of any defensive attention other than Bryant at this point?
Metta World Peace (13.2 points per game) instantly emerges as the club's second option. But what exactly is his upside if D'Antoni really slots the small forward at the center position (as reported by Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times) in a super small ball lineup that even Don Nelson wouldn't attempt?
Steve Nash has never been a dominant scorer, and his 10.2 points per game has him on pace for his lowest scoring output in more than a decade.
Marksman Jodie Meeks has more often than not been off the mark in 2012-13 (36.4 three-point percentage), while assumed sixth man Antawn Jamison has played a hair over 27 minutes since December 13, 2012.
It's tough to bet against the Nash-D'Antoni duo, and even tougher to bet against the Black Mamba.
But it sure is getting a lot easier as this season progresses, isn't it?
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