The Los Angeles Lakers, a team with a reputation for being a perennial powerhouse, are now in a playoff race that can make or break this season. All the hype that was built in the offseason, all the major acquisitions, all the fanfare, can easily come to a screeching halt if LA doesn't produce in the postseason.
While the Lakers are constantly improving in various areas, as it has been made evident since the all-star break, there are other weaknesses that potential playoff opponents can easily pick at if given the chance.
Where the Lakers stand right now, they have three logical projections as to who they will face if they make it to the playoffs: the San Antonio Spurs (No. 1 seed, would face in first round if they keep the eighth seed), the Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 2 seed, would need to earn the seventh seed) and their crosstown rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers (No. 3 seed, would need to earn the sixth seed).
If these or any other teams want to know how to beat LA, this is the way to do it:
Hit Fast, Hit Hard
As much as the Lakers have improved defensively, their main Achilles heel continues to be giving up the easy shot in the post.
Dwight Howard, whose job is to guard the key, has a tendency to lack the assertiveness needed to ensure that security in the paint, especially when opposing teams take advantage of the always-opportunistic fast-break play.
Howard's defense has been rather questionable in the past few games. While he has had some stellar defensive performances in games against the Indiana Pacers and the Sacramento Kings, his most recent showing against the Phoenix Suns proved to be quite dismal. While he recorded 11 rebounds, he was one-and-done in the assist, blocks and steals category.
Regardless of the performance of their star center, the team as a whole has continuously shown a total lack of resiliency when giving up the ball to a fast break. If their potential playoff foes want an easy series in the first round, they'll just have to be quicker.
Pick Your Weak Spots
It may sound like dirty basketball, but when you think about it, the Lakers' biggest detriment this season has got to be injury. Howard rushed his recovery from offseason back surgery, which proved to lead to injuries in other parts of his upper body.
Pau Gasol has been on and off the disabled list throughout the season, and is currently experiencing another stint on the bench while he heals up from an injured foot. And of course, the latest addition to the Lakers' infirmary is none other than Kobe Bryant.
Bryant went down with a sprained ankle during the Lakers' loss to the Atlanta Hawks on March 13 and has been ruled day-to-day since. The Lakers without "Vino" would be the biggest advantage that their opponents would have in the first round.
Even if Gasol and Bryant heal up, and Howard continues to return to a stable state of health, the pain will be there. Gasol's foot and Bryant's ankle could be key targets when committing the occasional foul in the first round. If either one went down early in the playoffs, it would certainly spell certain doom for the Lake Show.
Out-think and Out-do
The biggest weakness for the Lakers this season has got to be chemistry, or that is, the lack thereof. This Lakers team has done a fair job in figuring out what isn't working in terms of communication, but things are far from perfect.
The dysfunction amongst the ranks occasionally seeps through during key games, leading to various questionable performances on the court.
Some games played by the Lakers are played with absolute precision and attention to the little things that may happen.
However, other games look like a total sideshow. Players fail to communicate, plays are misunderstood, and before you know it, what is supposed to be a professional basketball game begins to look like your backyard pickup game, filled with speculation and constant questions of "Whodunit?" arising with every play.
The game of basketball, like any other sport, is half mental, half physical. Opponents must learn to keep an eye out for any communication breakdowns occurring during games and find a way to capitalize on any uncertainty that may occur as a result of this.
These are just some key points that the Lakers would need to clean up if they hope to stand a chance in this year's playoffs. And judging by the way things are looking in the Western Conference this season, the competition sure will be tough, to say the least.
Regardless, LA has to fix these problems as a whole. After all, championship No. 17 isn't going to win itself, you know.