Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant may have already guaranteed that his team will make the playoffs (per Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated), but the Lakers still have a variety of hurdles they need to overcome to enable a legitimate playoff push.
There’s no question that the Lakers’ 2012-13 campaign has been a disaster thus far. Coaching changes, injuries and an overall lack of team chemistry has all but destroyed the championship hype this team attained after trading for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
With that said, the Lakers still have a chance at reaching the postseason. In fact, the Lakers may be able to make some noise in the playoffs if they can find an identity moving forward.
Before any of that can happen, however, the Lakers need to overcome some evident obstacles.
The Los Angeles Lakers have 25 games remaining this season. They currently stand with a 28-29 overall record (good for the ninth seed in the Western Conference). During the 25 games left, the Lakers will face the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Hornets twice, while they match up with the Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards one time each.
As the Lakers push for a playoff berth during the final two months of the season, they need to take care of business against inferior opponents. They’ve already failed to do so at times this season, losing to Phoenix, Orlando and Sacramento.
Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni predicted that Western Conference playoff teams would need to win at least 45 games to make the postseason, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. For the Lakers to hit that mark, they’ll need to finish the season with a 17-8 record.
That won’t be an easy task to begin with, but it will prove to be just about impossible if the Lakers don’t notch wins against NBA cellar-dwellers.
Elite teams beat poor teams. That’s just the order of the world. If the Lakers can’t do so consistently moving forward, they’ll be in a lot of trouble.
The Los Angeles Lakers' struggles can easily be contributed to the fact that they have had a whale of a time beating good teams. In fact, the Lakers are just 2-11 against the top five teams in the Western Conference. Those teams include the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, if they do manage to make the playoffs, they can’t make a championship push by beating non-playoff teams. At some point, the Lakers have to start winning games against tough opponents.
The Lakers are winless against the Spurs, Clippers, Grizzlies, Heat, Pacers and Bulls. All of those teams are in the championship conversation, so it’s a terrible sign that the Lakers have totaled zero wins against those six teams.
The Lakers don’t necessarily need to go undefeated the rest of the way (although it would certainly help). However, the Lakers have to find a way to beat elite teams to gain confidence for a potential postseason run.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ second unit has been suspect all season long. Now that Mike D’Antoni is in place as the Lakers head coach, an eight-man rotation is likely to be the norm moving forward (limiting opportunities for guys off the bench).
The season-ending injury to Jordan Hill was a massive blow to an underachieving bench, but it’s something the Lakers need to overcome.
No second unit in the NBA comes close to being as nonexistent as the Portland Trail Blazers bench, but the Lakers' bench has been near the bottom all season.
The Lakers' bench is averaging 27 points per game on just 14.6 minutes per game, which is an improvement from earlier in the season. Even so, the Lakers' bench still ranks 26th in the NBA in scoring.
Getting 33 points off the bench against the Boston Celtics and 29 points off the bench against the Dallas Mavericks in recent games were huge numbers by the Lakers’ standards. If that type of bench play can continue moving forward, the Lakers will be a tough team to beat.
Injuries have been a problem for the Los Angeles Lakers all season long. Following back surgery, Dwight Howard still insists that he isn’t 100 percent healthy and needs to get in better shape, according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times. Not to mention the fact that he's playing through a torn labrum in his shoulder.
Additionally, Steve Nash missed time with a broken leg; Jordan Hill is out for the season following hip surgery and Pau Gasol is currently sidelined due to a torn plantar fascia in his foot.
Truthfully speaking, the Lakers haven’t been 100 percent healthy as a unit all season long. Howard is trying to return to form (no easy task following back surgery), and a host of other injuries have held this team back.
If the Lakers can find a way to get healthy prior to the postseason (should they get there), they could wind up being a completely different team.
The Los Angeles Lakers rank 23rd in the NBA in opponent points allowed per game, 17th in opponent field-goal percentage and 16th in the NBA in opponent three-point percentage.
In other words, the Lakers are a very mediocre defensive team despite having four Defensive Player of the Year awards on the roster (three for Dwight Howard and one for Metta World Peace).
NBA fans knew prior to the season that D12 would have to be the defensive catalyst for this team. However, teams are shooting just marginally worse (49.3 percent) when Howard is on the court versus when he’s off the court (49.9 percent), according to Basketball Reference.
Despite that statistic, the Lakers are clearly a better defensive rebounding team with Howard on the floor.
Interior defense will be an issue for the Lakers when Howard sits because their two post players, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, can’t fill in off the bench. But when Gasol comes back, the Lakers may be able to fill some of that void with his size.
The Lakers may never be an elite defensive team this year, as they have too many holes. However, there’s still a chance that the Lakers could become a good defensive team for the playoff run.
As long as they aren’t playing transition defense like this, they’ll give themselves a chance in postseason play.