Dire Patterns LA Lakers Must Correct Before NBA Playoffs Begin
As of Sunday, the Lakers find themselves tied for the eighth and final playoff spot with the Utah Jazz.
The Lakers will need to fight off several bad habits, many of which have plagued them throughout the season, over their final eight games in order to sneak into the playoffs.
Doing so will be difficult, as five (Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs) of the team's eight remaining opponents are currently playoff teams.
Throughout the 2012-13 season, there's been a sense of complacency surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers.
With three weeks until the playoffs begin, that complacency will need to be replaced by a sense of urgency.
The Lakers' defense has prevented their ability to surge through the Western Conference, and they currently rank 26th in opponent's points per game (101.5). What's worse is that the Lakers defense hasn't even made incremental strides as of late. Over their past three games, the Lakers have allowed 109.3 points per game, according to TeamRankings.
On the offensive end, the Lakers have lacked aggression, particularly in the frontcourt. The once-fearsome frontcourt duo of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol (more on him later) hasn't been as strong in the paint.
According to TeamRankings, the Lakers rank outside the top 10 in points in the paint per game, while they've allowed the third-most points in the paint per game. Over their past three games, opponents have scored an average of 50 points in the paint against the Lakers.
That's no recipe for postseason success.
Don't Let Leads Crumble
They say to be a successful team, you must compete for 48 minutes. The Los Angeles Lakers haven't received that message.
Although the Lakers rank second in first-quarter points scored (26.3) and eighth in second-quarter points scored (25.7), according to TeamRankings, there's been a noticeable absence of defense in the third and fourth quarters.
Through Sunday, the Lakers are allowing the fifth-most points per third quarter (25.3), while they allow 24 points per fourth quarter.
While Mike D'Antoni has had his team ranked among the top 10 in scoring offense all season long, there's been a noticeable absence of quality defense played in crunch time.
The Lakers are allowing the fifth-most points per game (101.5), so they will need to find ways to sustain more than a mediocre defense in hopes of fending off the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks for the Western Conference's eighth seed.
Use Pau Gasol Correctly
Pau Gasol recently returned (per The Associated Press) from a foot injury, which means debate over the seven-foot Spaniard's usage in Mike D'Antoni's offense is set to intensify once again.
It's been a rough transition year for Gasol, as he's had to deal not only with injuries, but also with new personnel and new coaching that have pushed him out of his comfort zone.
Prior to the 2012-13 season, Gasol had established a reputation as one of the league's premier post-up big men, using gorgeous footwork to his advantage down on the blocks to create separation from defenders.
Now, under D'Antoni, Gasol has been pushed back to the free-throw line, his primary area of operation.
According to NBA.com's stats database, Gasol has attempted 175 shots inside of five feet, his most of any area on the floor.
This is to be expected. What's troubling is that Gasol has attempted only 47 more shots from close range than he has from 15-19 feet.
On the whole, Gasol has attempted a total of 227 shots from inside of eight feet, while he's attempted a combined 237 from all areas beyond eight feet.
Considering that Gasol has converted on just 34.7 percent of all attempts outside of eight feet, D'Antoni will need to rethink the way he uses Gasol in tandem with Dwight Howard in the weeks ahead.
Tighten Up Transition Defense
The Los Angeles Lakers have plenty of issues, but in a Western Conference that's full of teams that thrive playing up-tempo basketball, there's perhaps none more concerning than the team's putrid transition defense.
All season long the Lakers have lacked a sense of urgency, and it's been most evident when the team has been forced to turn around quickly and get back on defense.
Not only has Los Angeles been ripped to shreds by opponents who like to run, but those who prefer to play in the half court have also realized the Lakers' glaring weakness.
Overall, the Lakers rank as the second-worst team in the NBA in fast-break points allowed (15.9 per game), according to TeamRankings.
In addition, TeamRankings notes that the Lakers rank 27th in opponent's fast-break efficiency, posting a mark of 1.882.
Whether the Lakers see the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs, they'll need stellar transition defense in order to stop teams that rank seventh and eighth, respectively, in pace, according to Basketball-Reference.
Start to Take Care of the Ball
What's been the root cause of the Los Angeles Lakers' poor transition defense? Turnovers, and lots of them.
According to TeamRankings, the Lakers rank 24th in turnovers per game, averaging 15.1 per contest.
To add insult to injury, the Lakers are one of the league's worst teams at forcing turnovers, as opponents have turned the ball over an average of 13.1 times per game against L.A., according to TeamRankings.
The Lakers' turnover problems are also evident when you look at the assist-to-turnover statistics. L.A. ranks in the bottom half of the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.467), while they have posted a weak mark of 1.317 assists per turnover on the road this season, according to TeamRankings.
When it comes down to it, fewer turnovers means fewer opportunities for opponents to get out and run. For a Lakers team that's playing with tired legs, fixing their turnover problem could be the key to clinching a playoff spot.