Alarming Stats Haunting Laker Fans' Postseason Dreams
For every step forward the Los Angeles Lakers have taken since the All-Star break, they take a couple of steps backward. It's certainly not a winning move for Dancing with the Stars.
While the incredible play of Kobe Bryant the past month has been the major reason the Lakers are 14-6 since the break, there remains several major underlying issues that threaten to derail the team even if it somehow manages to gain a late-season playoff berth.
Tuesday's loss at Oklahoma City was the perfect example of what the team does right and all that it does wrong. The same could be said for their stunning 108-102 comeback win (via ESPNLA.com) over the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday.
Able to claw back to within five points of the Thunder with six minutes left in that Tuesday night game, the Lakers went scoreless the rest of the way, finishing the quarter with just 16 points and losing in a 122-105 blowout.
It's quite obvious at this point in the season that the Lakers have some glaring deficiencies which greatly alter their chances for success in the playoffs. You can blame it on coaching, management, ownership or even Jack Nicholson, but the fact is that the players on the court win or lose together.
It's going to be a fight to the finish for the Lakers just to get into the postseason. The odds are not in their favor.
But if they can clean up, or at least partially correct, some of their most glaring weaknesses, the Lakers just might make some noise in the playoffs.
Practice Doesn't Make Perfect: The Dwight Free-Throw Saga Continues
Dwight Howard makes 80-90 percent of his free attempts in practice. That, and five bucks, will get you a medium size decaf latte at Starbucks.
Making free throws in an actual game involves real pressure, something Howard has not yet learned to cope with, dating back to his days as a member of the Orlando Magic.
For the first seven years of Howard's career, he converted just under 60 percent of his free-throw attempts. Last year, he converted 49 percent, and this season it is down to 48.
The frustrating aspect of Howard's missed charity shots is that he has decent form. He just can't seem to ever get in a rhythm, and his misses have been felt in the games the Lakers lose, especially the close ones.
The Lakers and coach Mike D'Antoni recognize the problem but are steadfast in their belief that Dwight's misses at the line are not game-changers. Still, if D12 can somehow bring that percentage up another 10 points to his career average, it could mean the difference in a win or two down the stretch for the Lakers.
Points in the Paint: It's Embarrassing
The Lakers might as well post a sign at their end of the court that reads: "please use the front entrance, it's open."
D'Antoni is known as an offensive innovator, and he's managed to create a pretty decent offense with the players he has in Los Angeles. But the defense in general is a disaster.
There is something to be said for the fact that the Lakers miss Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, but it's no excuse for the constant failure to rotate on defense, leaving players open for easy layups and dunks. Both OKC and New Orleans took advantage of sloppy coverage and buried the Lakers in close.
Too many times against both teams, Howard came out to double-team a big man, only to leave someone free under the basket for an easy slam.
The Lakers are near the bottom of the league when it comes to giving up points in the paint, averaging right around 45 a game. Denver burned them for 78 in one of the team's recent road losses, so it's only getting worse.
Turnovers Have Been a Season-Long Problem for Kobe and Company
As a team, the Los Angeles Lakers rank 26th out of 30 in turnovers. And, we all know what turnovers lead to.
The Lakers turn the ball over more than 15 times per game and, because they are a slow team, those giveaways often lead to scores for the opposition.
The Lakers turned it over 21 times against the Atlanta Hawks and 16 against the OKC Thunder. The Lakers gave up a total of 71 points to OKC in the first half of their loss Tuesday and another 63 to the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday. Turnovers were a big part of the problem.
Every team has problems with mistakes from time to time. The league leaders in turnovers are actually some of the game's top players: Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo, James Harden, John Wall, Bryant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
But teams like Oklahoma City can afford turnovers because they're quick and can usually recover on defense after coughing up the ball. The Lakers are not so fortunate. They need to play a slower game, take care of the basketball and not give up easy buckets on the other end.
It's easier said than done. They forced just two turnovers against the Thunder—tied for the lowest in league history. Stats like that won't get you far in the postseason.
Most Shots Allowed, Most Field Goals Made by Opponents
In Thursday night's improbable win over New Orleans, the Hornets threw up 88 shots against the Lakers. That's one more than L.A.'s average of 87 allowed per game, which is worst in the NBA.
The Lakers also rank last in opposition field goals made with 39.6 per contest. It's an alarming statistic and can be traced to the team's inability to snag rebounds after missed shots.
In their 17-point loss to the Thunder on Tuesday, the Lakers had just 77 field-goal attempts to an astounding 96 for OKC (via NBA.com). Oklahoma City converted on 46 of those attempts and won going away.
The statistic is glaring and telling. The Lakers are an extremely inconsistent group on defense.
They proved in the final minutes of their win over New Orleans Wednesday that they can make stops when they need them. They talk about a sense of urgency, but they need to display it more often if they expect to qualify for the playoffs and make a run at a title.
Lakers Are Just 11-20 on the Road This Year
The Lakers play eight of their next 12 games on the road. If they are going to make the playoffs, they will need to earn it.
As good as the Lakers have been in the last month (14-5 since the All-Star break), they are still a so-so club when they leave Staples Center.
After failing to score a point in the final six minutes of their loss to the Thunder, the Lakers looked a bit like a worn out prize fighter in New Orleans as they fell behind the lowly Hornets by 25 points.
A miraculous comeback led by a 20-0 run to finish the game gave L.A. a 1-1 split as they headed home for games against the Toronto Raptors Friday and the Chicago Bulls on Sunday.
There's really no figuring out the Los Angeles Lakers this season. They are as up and down as a deluxe yo-yo. The way they struggled for three and a half quarters against New Orleans before deciding to play air-tight defense pretty much summed up what their season has been like.
Los Angeles is just one game back of Utah now in the battle for the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference. The Lakers show all sides of a bipolar basketball team in just about each and every game.
It's only fitting that for them to make the postseason and head to the playoffs with some steam, the Lakers will need to win some very tough games on the road in the coming days. And, after watching the team storm back to defeat New Orleans in its biggest comeback in 10 years (via ESPN.com), all bets on what this club does are off.