Potential Disasters That Could Ruin LA Lakers' Season

Ehran Khan@@ekhansworldContributor IIIMarch 15, 2013

The Lakers' mettle will surely be tested without Kobe Bryant in the lineup.
The Lakers' mettle will surely be tested without Kobe Bryant in the lineup.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers were on a roll going into Atlanta on Wednesday night to face the Hawks.

They had won 17 of their previous 23 games and taken control of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West when disaster struck.

With win No. 18 in game No. 24 hanging in the balance, the Lakers' No. 24 went down with a severe ankle sprain.

Kobe Bryant immediately called out the Hawks' Dahntay Jones postgame for sliding underneath him on that fateful jumper which caused his worst ankle sprain in 13 years.

The Lakers went on to lose the game and—more importantly—Bryant indefinitely.

Just like that all the work the Lakers have put in to overcome the injuries, coaching changes and chemistry issues to make a postseason push is on the brink of utter collapse.

If Bryant can't return quickly and the Lakers slide back out of the playoff race, the season is ruined.

Bryant knows what's at stake, and has consistently willed himself to play through painful injuries. The hope in Lakerland is that he can rise from the ashes sooner than anyone expects and carry the Lakers as he has always done.

An injury to Kobe Bryant isn't the only thing that can go wrong for the Lakers in the final month of the season. Here are three other potential disasters the team should hope to avoid.


1. Injury to Dwight Howard

Keeping with the "injured superstar" theme, losing Dwight Howard to injury would strike another heavy blow to L.A.'s playoff chances.

Obviously, Howard's health has been an issue all season long, but to his credit he has played through the back and shoulder problems to produce at an All-Star level.

Without Howard on the court, the Lakers' defense—already in the bottom half of the league in terms of efficiency—would completely fall apart.

While L.A.'s offense is essentially unaffected by Howard's presence, his impact on the defensive end is enormous. When Howard is on the court the Lakers defend at a top-10 level, allowing the same number of points per possession as the Miami Heat.

But when Howard is on the sideline the Lakers simply hemorrhage points, giving up more points per possession than every team in the league save the woeful Charlotte Bobcats.

The gaping hole in the center of the defense is noticeable when Howard sits. In those situations, opponents attempt 38 percent of their field goals inside the restricted area. They only take 31.5 percent of their shots that close to the hoop when Howard is manning the middle.

Overall, the Lakers are 7.4 points per 100 possessions better with Howard on the floor. That's a bigger on/off split than even Bryant can boast. The Lakers really can't afford Howard to go down for any extended period of time.


2. Lakers' Shooters Go Cold

Three-point bombing is a hallmark of any Mike D'Antoni-constructed offense. His Phoenix Suns teams consistently led the league in three-point makes and attempts.

D'Antoni has his current squad hoisting frequently from deep as well. The Lakers are third in the NBA in long-range makes and attempts, but just 16th in percentage.

Their middling accuracy from downtown raises some concerns. Given their propensity to start games slow and spot opponents double-digit leads, the Lakers rely on the three-pointer to spark comebacks.

Aside from Steve Nash, the Lakers don't have many reliable three-point marksmen. When Jodie Meeks is on, he's on, but he's been streaky all season and is as likely to go 1-for-8 from beyond the arc as he is to go 4-for-8.

Antawn Jamison, Metta World Peace and Earl Clark haven't been shy about shooting from outside this year, but that's not their forte. All of them are prone to cold streaks.

And despite all the clutch threes Kobe Bryant has hit over his career, he's a scorer, not a shooter.

With as many triples as the Lakers attempt, if the treys aren't falling, they're probably not winning. To that point, L.A. is 3-7 this season when taking at least 25 threes and making less than 30 percent of them.


3. Lakers Can't Properly Integrate Pau Gasol Back into the Lineup

The Lakers have made their late-season run largely with Pau Gasol out of the lineup due to injury, but it seems like he's on the verge of making his return.

Naturally, adding a perennial All-Star and one of the most gifted big men in the game is a huge boost to a ball club.

Or is it?

The dirty little secret about the Lakers is that they play much better with only one of their star big men on the floor. It's not a coincidence that the Lakers have enjoyed such success sans Gasol.

Los Angeles is just 12-14 when Gasol and Howard are both in the starting lineup, and when their preseason projected starting five of Gasol, Howard, Bryant, Nash and World Peace has actually tipped off, they are surprisingly winless, going 0-5.

Even if Gasol comes off the bench it doesn't alleviate the struggles the Lakers have had in their twin-towers configuration.

When Gasol and Howard share the floor, the Lakers' top-10 offense slips to league-average levels and they are actually outscored by opponents per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com.

In stints with only Howard on the court, the Lakers are plus-6.8 points per 100 possessions. When it's just Gasol in the middle, they are plus-8.4.

If you look at the all the two-man lineup combinations the Lakers have had this year, the Gasol-Howard combo isn't among their top-40 in terms of point differential per 48 minutes.

Mike D'Antoni has notoriously benched Gasol in fourth quarters this year and that move has drawn the ire of fans, media and the Spaniard himself.

It's hard to justify sitting one of the 15-best players in the NBA during crunch time, but so far the Lakers have proven to be far more effective with either Gasol or Howard watching from the sidelines.

If the Lakers can't play their five best guys when it matters most, that's a problem.

In fact it's a potential disaster, one that could ruin their season.


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