Checklist for LA Lakers During NBA Playoff Push
Depending on your opinion, the Los Angeles Lakers are either on the brink of collapse or are a win or two away from finding themselves in playoff contention.
With an offense that can't seem to get everyone adequate touches and a defense that simply can't muster a sustainable 48 minutes of defense, it's clear that the Lakers are still very much a work in progress.
With playoff hopes hanging in the balance, the Lakers will need to hit the ground running after the All-Star break and string together some convincing wins if they want to have any chance of averting disaster.
Make Steve Nash Primary Ball-Handler
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Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash have established nice chemistry lately, running a two-man game that has largely been dependent on the side pick-and-roll. The surprise, though, has been that Kobe has operated as the ball-handler and passer, with Nash as the roller and scorer.
Unfortunately, the problem with the two-man game between Nash and Kobe is that it tends to neglect the Los Angeles Lakers' other offensive weapons.
By letting Steve Nash operate as the team's primary ball-handler, the Lakers will afford themselves more flexibility in their offensive sets, opening up looks for Earl Clark, Dwight Howard and Antawn Jamison.
In addition, letting Nash initiate offensive sets tends to result in better floor-spacing, especially because defenses tend to collapse on the point guard when he drives into the lane.
Run More of the Offense Through Dwight Howard
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Dwight Howard is attempting 10.1 field goals per game, which is his lowest mark since the 2009-10 season.
While the decrease in touches has to do with the presence of other talented scorers—namely Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash—Howard has also been phased out of the offense quite a bit.
Howard hasn't looked anywhere close to 100 percent this season, evidenced by his inability to roll to the basket with a full head of steam or take contact when setting screens.
With that in mind, it's clear that Mike D'Antoni needs to assess Howard's disabilities and work around them, moving the offense through his talented center down in the post.
With Howard capable of scoring from both the left and right blocks, the Los Angeles Lakers' offense could prosper if they ultimately establish a more reliable inside-outside game.
Specifically, and we saw this a bit on Tuesday night against the Phoenix Suns, D'Antoni could run some isolations for Howard down on the blocks, clearing out nearby space, thus allowing him to operate on his own.
In addition, Howard could benefit from some added face-up opportunities, as he has a potent first step that many centers can't keep up with.
Improve Transition Defense
The Los Angeles Lakers 107-97 loss to the Miami Heat highlighted some awful tendencies that have haunted the team since opening day.
Of primary concern here is the Lakers' patchy transition defense, which can adequately be summarized as lacking effort.
In a game that was tightly contested for nearly 40 minutes, things eventually got out of hand when the Lakers got sloppy, turning the ball over in the half court, which led to uncontested Miami conversions on the other end.
In the clip above, only one man feels the need to hustle back on defense, and that's Steve Nash. Even if a dunk on the other end was inevitable, some visible effort from the other four players on the floor would have been an encouraging sign.
If that continues to be a trend moving forward, you can forget about the Lakers sneaking into the playoffs as a seventh or eighth seed.
Cut Down on Turnovers
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Turning the ball over is largely the cause of the Los Angeles Lakers' poor transition defense, but it's a problem so significant that it must be highlighted here.
According to TeamRankings, the Lakers turn the ball over an average of 15.2 times per game, the sixth-worst mark in the league.
The Lakers' negative turnover differential crystallizes the team's biggest problem, which is that they have an unreliable, aging defense that plays with little energy, and an offense that has become consistently careless with the ball.
Moving forward, the onus will be on Steve Nash (2.6 turnovers per game) and Kobe Bryant (3.4 turnovers per game) to set the tone and cut down on turnovers, particularly in late-game situations.
Push Bench to Produce
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Mike D'Antoni has hardly put his bench to use in his first year in Los Angeles.
And while it makes sense that D'Antoni refuses to place a heavy burden on a mediocre second unit, his starting five is playing far too many minutes (33.5 minutes per player per game, second-highest in the NBA per HoopsStats), when they're one of the NBA's oldest units.
Depth is a characteristic that most playoff contenders boast, and while the Los Angeles Lakers may not have an embarrassment of riches on the bench, they're going to have to pretend they do in order to make a playoff push.