5 Keys to Watch as Lakers Make Playoff Push in Season's 2nd Half
After an impressive offseason, which landed All-Stars Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in Los Angeles, many predicted that this Lakers squad would be poised and ready to make a run at this year's NBA title.
But nobody could have foreseen this.
Approaching the midway point of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers (17-23) are six games under .500 and 11th place in the Western Conference, leaving them on the brink of missing the playoffs and even worse, the second-best team in Los Angeles.
Is there enough time for these Los Angeles Lakers to find themselves and get into the playoffs? Here are five keys that could turn their season around.
If there is one thing that has been consistent this season for the Los Angeles Lakers, it has been the inconsistencies of their lineup rotations.
As mentioned before in Ehran Khan's article, the Lakers have used 11 different starting lineups this season. While the injury bug could be mostly to blame for the constant shifting in the starting lineup, the bench rotation has also been tough to figure out.
Since joining the Lakers this summer as "key" reserves, Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks both have had similar difficulties just making it into games.
After receiving five DNP-CD's last month, Antawn Jamison expressed his frustration with his benching, saying to the L.A. Daily News via ESPN that it didn't, "make sense. They're pretty much telling me my services are no longer needed."
Since speaking to the media and Jordan Hill going down with a season-ending injury, Jamison has once again crafted a role off the bench while Meeks continues to see very limited minutes.
While it is obvious that the Lakers have not figured out the "perfect" rotation yet, they have no more time to waste trying to mix and match the pieces. The Lakers must set their rotation.
Protect the Paint
There is no sugarcoating it, the Lakers are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA.
Currently ranked 26th in the league in opponents' points per game allowing 101.6 points and 29th in opponents' points in the paint with 44.2 points per game, the Lakers are just flat-out getting destroyed on the defensive end of the floor.
While the Lakers do possess the best defensive big man in the game in Dwight Howard, Howard cannot and will not clean up everything. The defense clearly struggles with dribble penetration and even simple things like stopping the ball in transition.
The Lakers must collectively make an effort in defending the basketball and it must start at the top with Kobe Bryant. Although one of the best on-ball defenders in the league, Bryant has also developed the habit of watching the ball instead of sticking with his man.
Kobe must lead by example and with the news that Coach Mike D'Antoni will be putting Kobe on the opposing team's best player and primary scorer, this may be just the thing to jump-start their defense.
One of the glaring issues, if not the biggest issue with this Lakers squad, is the persistent turning over of the rock.
Averaging 15.3 turnovers a game, the Lakers seem to be trying to beat themselves on a nightly basis. Giving up that many turnovers each game only makes things worse as it plays into their weakness of defending transition offense.
The Lakers need to avoid getting caught in transition, as they're ranked last in the NBA giving up 15.7 fast-break points a game.
While it may be easier said than done at this point, the Lakers have to clean up this area of the game. The Lakers need to take care of the basketball and value every possession on the offensive end of the floor, or they'll continue to get torched.
Utilizing Pau Gasol
One thing is certain, the Lakers need Pau Gasol and they need him bad.
Since coming over to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008, Pau Gasol has either been the reason behind the Lakers success or the excuse for their failures. This year is not an exception.
Gasol is having his worst scoring season in his career averaging just 12.2 points a game. To make matters worse, Gasol seems to be content with shooting jumpers and threes instead of using his physical advantage inside.
Although this may not all be on Pau and an argument could be made that it may be his role in D'Antoni's system, there is no excuse for him turning down open shots and looking to pass when he should be attacking the defense.
With ripples of D'Antoni possibly thinking of bringing Gasol off the bench, whether Gasol likes it or not, he must buy in to this idea. I mean, he did have his best scoring night of the season after Dwight Howard got ejected.
More Touches for Dwight Howard
While I agree that it is entertaining to watch Kobe play superhero on the court; shooting contested jumpers and making shots that only he can, there is an easier way to get points. His name is Dwight Howard.
In the 20 losses that Dwight Howard has played in, Howard has only taken 9.4 shot attempts. While this stat is a bit skewed due to amount of fouls Howard usually takes while attempting his shots, Howard should still be getting close to 20 shots or more per game.
Dwight Howard is arguably the best big man in the game and the offense should run through him. Even if that means Howard will spend the majority of the game on the free-throw line, this should be the tactic the Lakers go to every single game.
Whether that means less shots for Kobe or less shots to go around for the team in general, Howard is too dominant of a player to be taking less than 20 shots per game.
The Los Angeles Lakers will have to address these issues as they continue to try and get back into playoff contention. If the Lakers do in fact make it into the playoffs this coming April and can get to playing good ball by then, they could become the L.A. Kings of the NBA playoffs.