Crucial Flaws That Will Prevent LA Lakers from Making 2013 NBA Playoffs

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2013

Crucial Flaws That Will Prevent LA Lakers from Making 2013 NBA Playoffs

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    A starting lineup comprised of perennial All-Stars and future Hall of Famers was supposed to net the Los Angeles Lakers one of the Western Conference's top seeds, a Pacific Division title and ideally another championship banner.

    Now, it appears as if the Lakers' big experiment is on the verge of spontaneously combusting through 48 games.

    Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard have struggled to coexist, and whether you place the blame on the players or the scheme, this team may be broken beyond repair.

    With a record of 22-26, the Lakers have a real shot at missing the playoffs, which would solidify 2012-13 as one of the most disappointing regular seasons in franchise history.

Lack of Bench Scoring

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    The Los Angeles Lakers bench was never believed to be one of the team's strengths, but that doesn't excuse the lousy production we've seen from this group of reserves thus far.

    A bench unit comprised of Pau Gasol (when Dwight Howard is healthy), Jodie Meeks, Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison, the Lakers' second unit has managed the league's fifth-worst bench production, scoring just 26.9 points per game, according to Hoopsstats.

    Jamison's production has ticked up lately, as he's scoring 13.8 points and grabbing 4.8 rebounds per game over his last five, but as a unit, the bench's results have been disappointing.

    Perhaps one reason for the underwhelming performance of his team's bench is that head coach Mike D'Antoni has shown little trust in his second unit, playing them just 14.7 minutes per player per game, the second-lowest mark in the NBA, per Hoopsstats.

Steve Nash's Uncertain Role

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    Perhaps the biggest change for the Los Angeles Lakers heading into the 2012-13 season was the presence of an elite point guard who would, theoretically, operate a lethal pick-and-roll with the league's most gifted frontcourt pairing.

    Instead, Nash's arrival in Tinseltown has been a learning process, not only for himself, but for his teammates.

    Nash has never been surrounded by stars of this caliber, particularly ones like Kobe Bryant who dominate the ball on the majority of the team's offensive possessions.

    As has come to be expected, Nash is shooting the lights out (52.2 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three-point range), but nonetheless, his role remains a bit ambiguous.

    With Bryant recently taking over the role as the team's primary distributor (9.4 assists per game over his last five), Nash has been left in an awkward position.

    Nash is averaging 7.8 assists per game, his lowest total since the 2002-03 season. Those numbers are by no means bad, but it's clear his role has been usurped to a degree.

    And while the Lakers have been accumulating more wins with Bryant scoring less and passing more, it's hard to ignore the absence of a concrete role for one of the greatest point guards of all time.

The Gasol-Howard Struggle

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    Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol were supposed to complement each other beautifully. Gasol would play out of the high post and find his stroke from 12 feet, dishing to Howard who would regain elite form down on the blocks.

    Under Mike D'Antoni, this idealistic view has not become a reality. Gasol has been relegated to the bench in favor of Earl Clark, who is a more natural fit in a starting lineup that desperately needed better floor spacing.

    The problem for the Lakers is that they can't seem to find much consistency when both Gasol and Howard are playing together.

    According to 82games, the five-man grouping of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard is a meager plus-three in the plus/minus, and is posting a win percentage of 57 percent. 

    In contrast, the lineup of Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Clark and Howard is plus-39 on the season, and has a win percentage of 75 percent.

    So while the stats show that they don't play exceptionally well together, D'Antoni is going to have to move forward with Gasol and Howard as his crunch time duo in the frontcourt.

Injuries Killing Chemistry

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    Nagging injuries to both his shoulder and back have forced Dwight Howard to miss five games this season.

    Five games isn't a significant amount of time, but on a team with so many new pieces, continuity is key.

    The Lakers have had some trouble establishing some much-needed chemistry, and Howard's absence combined with early-season injuries to Pau Gasol and Steve Nash have resulted in a .458 winning percentage.

    Howard is the latest of the team's significant contributors to suffer an injury, undergoing a minor, nonsurgical shoulder procedure over the weekend.

    With Howard reportedly (via Orange County Register) in danger of missing Tuesday's game against the Brooklyn Nets, things are starting to look bleak for the Lakers.

    If Howard does miss Tuesday's game, that will leave him and the Lakers with 37 games and counting until the end of the regular season.

    That means 37 games to right all of their wrongs, establish some chemistry between Howard and Gasol, and ultimately sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed in a competitive Western Conference.

Defense, Defense, Defense

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    The focus on the Los Angeles Lakers throughout much of the season has been on their lack of cohesion on the offensive end, but the fact remains that the team's defense is what's really holding them back.

    Mike D'Antoni's teams have never been particularly stout defensively, so it should come as no surprise that the Lakers rank 19th in the NBA in defensive efficiency (103.6), per Hoopdata, and 25th in the NBA in opponent's points per game (100.8), according to Basketball-Reference.

    The team may look like it's struggling on the offensive end at times, but the numbers don't lie. With an offensive rating of 105.7, the Lakers are among the league's top 10 offenses, and are posting a positive net differential of 2.1.

    One of the biggest problems plaguing the Laker defense has been their inability to get back in transition. Just take a look at this clip from Sunday's victory over the Detroit Pistons.

    Letting a guard beat you down the floor is one thing, but to let a 6'10'' power forward like Andre Drummond abuse you on the fast break speaks to a lack of effort. Only two Lakers attempt to get back, leaving Pau Gasol helpless underneath the basket. That can't continue to be a trend moving forward.

    In a week in which the Lakers are slated to face the Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, consistent defense is going to be crucial to winning games against the Eastern Conference's elite.