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Next Steps LA Lakers Must Follow to Make Playoffs

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2013

Next Steps LA Lakers Must Follow to Make Playoffs

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    The 2013 NBA playoffs aren't out of the Los Angeles Lakers' grasp yet. The No. 8 seed is within striking distance if the squad completes a few specific steps.

    Kobe Bryant and company are 3.5 games out of the postseason picture with 26 games remaining, so they have a legitimate chance to make up the difference if they finish the season strong.

    Recent victories over the Boston Celtics and the Portland Trail Blazers offer hope for the Lakers' faithful. The offense is clicking, and the defense is doing enough to slow down challengers. 

    What does Mike D'Antoni need to do to get the club over the .500 hump? What adjustments do the superstars on the roster need to make?

    Find out as we offer a six-pack of steps for the Lakers to follow all the way to the playoffs.

6. Don't Be Afraid to Go Small

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    While the Los Angeles Lakers should continue to utilize Dwight Howard as often as possible (and Pau Gasol when he returns), Mike D'Antoni shouldn't be afraid to mix in healthy doses of small lineups.

    I'm not saying D'Antoni should change who he is, but I'm sure he's taken a hard look at what made Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard successful in Orlando. Four guards/swingmen plus Howard can work for stretches during games.

    In each of the three lineup combinations that include Metta World Peace as power forward and Dwight Howard as center, the Lakers have no worse than a 60 percent win rate (via 82games.com). The pairing is also plus-45 on the season.

    Another relatively small lineup D'Antoni should continue to build on features Antawn Jamison at the No. 4 slot.

    When he's the team's power forward, the team is plus-54. His shooting threat stretches defenses, and his activeness on the glass is critical.

5. Nightly Effort to Limit Turnovers on Offense

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    Winning the turnover margin is often the determining factor in basketball games, and the Los Angeles Lakers have routinely lost that battle.

    With 15.3 turnovers per game, they rank 25th in the NBA. Superstars Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard combine for more than half of those miscues, averaging 7.5 turnovers per game.

    It's easier said than done, but improved ball movement in the half court will help remedy this ailment. It makes it more difficult for help defenders to shift, follow the play and take swipes at Bryant and Howard.

    Turnovers not only deny the Lakers chances to score, but they often directly lead to field-goal attempts for opponents.

    The Lakers have done a decent job of protecting the ball lately, but they need to commit to taking care of it every single game. 

4. Force Turnovers with Proactive Defense

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    Cutting down on turnovers on offense is one thing, but if Mike D'Antoni's crew can take the ball away from opponents, LA will see a substantial advantage in time of possession.

    Right now, the Los Angeles Lakers force just 13.1 turnovers per game, the second-worst rate in the NBA.

    Part of the reason is because they're older and slower than most teams, therefore relying more on positional defense and less on trapping or aggression.

    However, part of it is because they've spent most of the season trying to figure out how to play together. The result has been a reactive defense that's on its heels rather than a proactive defense seeking to disrupt foes.

    Now that LA is actually starting to mesh on both ends of the floor, the next step is to become a more aggressive, ball-hawking unit.

3. Don't Fall in Love with the Three-Ball

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    Another concrete step toward clinching the playoffs is trying to win games without relying heavily on three-pointers.

    Triples can be a powerful weapon, but if they're executed poorly, they make life easy for the defense.

    Throughout the first few months of the 2012-13 campaign, the Los Angeles Lakers have repeatedly bailed out their opponents by tossing up too many threes. LA has hoisted the third-most three-pointers in the league.

    Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant attempt more than five triples per game apiece, but neither of them shoots better than 35 percent from beyond the arc.

    Those would-be threes need to turn into pump fakes or dishes to cutters, because the Lakers can't afford to let outside shooting ruin their postseason hopes.

2. Improve Rotation to Contain Opposing Guards

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    This is something the Los Angeles Lakers are improving, and they'll need to keep tightening the screws.

    Let's face it, Steve Nash isn't going to become any better at stopping guards, and Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace aren't getting any younger either.

    That makes it imperative for the entire squad to rotate and help as a unit. The forwards need to step up and protect the paint, and the guards subsequently need to shift and cover for their helpers.

    In recent wins over the Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers, everyone did a much better job of looking out for one another.

    When the help defense has a spring in its step, the Lakers aren't a bad defensive outfit. 

1. Nash Pick-and-Roll with Kobe and Dwight

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    According to Synergy Sports, Dwight Howard is 49-of-63 (78 percent) on pick-and-rolls. That's less than two pick-and-roll shot attempts per game.

    Mike D'Antoni knows this, and he wants to get his big man the ball more. But it's ultimately up to Steve Nash, Howard and the proper spacing to execute. Howard must cultivate his below-the-rim pick-and-roll skills, especially since he's not 100 percent on alley-oops.

    In addition to targeting Howard more frequently, Nash should work the play with Kobe Bryant.

    They've tried it a small handful of times, and it has worked. In the win over the Portland Trail Blazers, one of Bryant's rolls to the rim resulted in a delayed dime by Nash and an easy lay-in.

    The doctor's orders are: increase the dosage.

     

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