As we cross the halfway point of the 2012-13 NBA regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers are eight games below .500. With the postseason slipping away and the Lakers in the midst of the most devastating collapse in franchise history, there isn't much room for optimism.
Fortunately, we have a glass-half-full progress report for the L.A. Lakers.
With the star power the Lakers possess and their current lack of success, it is easy to believe that all hope is lost. After all, the Lakers are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
It would be the second time since 1994 that the Lakers missed the postseason.
Still, the Lakers have not yet been eliminated from postseason contention. In fact, the Lakers remain just four games behind the Houston Rockets for the final spot in the Western Conference playoff picture.
Houston is 22-22 and happens to be in the midst of a stretch in which it's lost eight of their past nine games.
Furthermore, the Lakers have a positive point differential. As hard as it may be to believe, the Lakers rank 13th in the NBA at positive-0.9.
That either neutralizes the value of such a statistic or displays how well the Lakers play when they win and how close games are when they lose.
To touch on the latter, 16 of the Lakers' 25 losses have come by single digits. Nine of those losses have come by six points or less and four losses have come by one possession.
Defensive stops may be the difference between 17-25 and 21-21.
As poorly as they've played, it is imperative that we do not lose sight of one very important factor: The Lakers are not a team made up of average talent.
They have two league MVPs, two Defensive Player of the Year award winners and six All-Stars. It's time to place the paper greatness on the floor.
When a team allows injuries to serve as an excuse, we as an NBA community know to dismiss such theories as nonsensical. More times than not, teams are simply not built well enough to sustain an injury—a fault, not an excuse.
The fact of the matter is, the Los Angeles Lakers' starting five is so far above the label of elite that injuries appear to be the only rational explanation for their overwhelming failure.
Steve Nash suffered a small fracture in his left leg and missed 24 consecutive games. Pau Gasol battled knee tendinitis and missed eight straight.
Gasol then suffered a concussion on January 6 and proceeded to miss five additional games.
Furthermore, Dwight Howard received offseason back surgery. Although his numbers have been impressive, Howard's former coach, Stan Van Gundy, is one of many to claim that D-12 is not at 100 percent (via the Los Angeles Times).
To make matters worse, D-12 suffered what was believed to be a torn labrum in his right shoulder (via Mike Trudell of NBA.com). Trudell later reported that Howard re-injured his shoulder, but there was no further damage.
If that's not enough, Jordan Hill was ruled out for the remainder of the season with a hip injury (via the Los Angeles Times).
Fortunately, Earl Clark has emerged as a revelation in Hill's absence. By the theme of the evening, optimism suggests that there will be better days in Los Angeles.
Perhaps good health is all L.A. needs to turn things around.
Discovering Earl Clark
If there is one positive to take from the injury to sixth man Jordan Hill, it is that the Los Angeles Lakers discovered Earl Clark.
Since stepping in on January 8 against the Houston Rockets, Clark is averaging 10.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 blocks in 27.7 minutes per game. The former Louisville standout is also posting a slash line of .483/.556/.769.
The truth of the matter is, no number can display how valuable Clark has been.
The 25-year-old forward has provided an athletic boost to the lifeless legs of the Los Angeles veterans. He's been tenacious on the glass, versatile as a defender and a weapon in transition.
The Lakers may need more than just Clark from an athleticism perspective, but E.C. has carried more than his fair share of the workload.
Defense Should Improve
Thus far in 2012-13, the Los Angeles Lakers rank 26th in the NBA in scoring defense. They're allowing 101.5 points per game—their worst number since 2008.
Fortunately, the personnel in place are capable of a major turnaround.
Dwight Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, having last won the award in 2011. D-12 most recently anchored the seventh-ranked scoring defense with the Orlando Magic in 2011-12.
Considering the superior talent the Lakers possess in comparison to Orlando, one can only imagine that there is the potential for greater results.
Metta World Peace may not be the athlete he once was, but he happens to be the last perimeter player to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. That comes by prowess, patience and intelligence.
All traits MWP continues to display.
Furthermore, Kobe Bryant is a 12-time All-Defensive Team selection. He's made the first team nine times and second team on three separate occasions.
Although Kobe may have lost a step, he remains a force to be reckoned with as he defends on-ball.
With all of this being established, it is difficult to imagine the Lakers struggling defensively for the remainder of the season. Although there will need to be alteration in the coaching staff's strategy, the potential is there.
If nothing else, the Lakers have room for improvement from being a bottom-feeder to elite.