With the euphoria of Shaquille O'Neal's jersey retirement wearing off, it's obvious that a determined, yet flawed Los Angeles Lakers squad continues to fight for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Possessing a roster with a myriad of strengths, those positives are seemingly negated by an equal amount of weaknesses.
However, no team in the NBA is without weakness. Thus, the time has come for the Lakers to maximize their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses as the playoffs draw nearer.
Hosting a bevy of veteran savvy to balance out their old legs, the Lakers need to turn the switch and utilize their weapons efficiently and effectively to make the playoffs without running out of steam.
The Lakers' three greatest strengths and three most crippling weaknesses will be analyzed in alternating order.
Stats are accurate as of April 3
Despite the controversy behind what system to run and the constant criticism Mike D'Antoni has racked up this season for trying to implement a system that didn't match the personnel, the Los Angeles Lakers have been a proficient offensive team.
Ranking sixth in the NBA in points with 102.3 points scored per game while shooting about 50 percent from the field, the Lakers have had no problem lighting up the scoreboard despite their apparent struggles.
While they do have clear chemistry issues, their roster hosts a myriad of versatile scorers that can all score in different ways.
Obviously, Kobe Bryant is their most lethal and versatile scorer. The Black Mamba is still a lethal jump shooter who can take his man into the post as well as driving into the lane and creating opportunities for himself and his teammates.
Pau Gasol is a low-post player with a great jump shot and excellent passing ability for a big man. Though the Lakers struggled initially trying to integrate Gasol and Dwight Howard in their offense, their late-season play indicates that all is well with the chemistry between the two big men.
While Gasol is utilizing the high post to create for his teammates, Howard still is utilizing his physical dominance to run pick-and-rolls, post-up in the low post and attack the offensive glass.
With Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison stretching the floor and Steve Nash and Steve Blake acting as supplementary shooters and facilitators, the Lakers have talent on the offensive end.
Though there have been stretches where the Lakers have gone stagnant or haven't been able to score consistently, their talent and the eventual improvement of the team's chemistry has enabled the players to find their roles.
With Howard staking his claim to the interior, Gasol is doing some of his best work this season working from the elbows and utilizing his jumper and high-post skills.
Bryant has found a balance between scoring and facilitating and Blake, Nash, Meeks and Jamison have found their stroke from distance.
With such a myriad of offensive weapons, the Lakers won't have a problem scoring if they move the ball and involve all of their weapons consistently.
Despite their proficiency scoring the basketball, the Lakers' struggles this season and their apparent lack of chemistry have resulted in many turnovers.
Averaging 15.1 turnovers per game, the Lakers are 24th in the league in that department.
Without Gasol in their line-up for the majority of the season, the Lakers' offense was generated in predictable ways.
The offense centered around Bryant isolation plays, drive-and-kicks by the Black Mamba, pick-and-rolls with Howard and the occasional post-up.
With Bryant usurping the primary facilitator role from Nash and defenses honing in on the Black Mamba, it's no surprise that Bryant is averaging close to four turnovers per game.
Although the Lakers score in bunches, a combination of defensive pressure on Bryant, the initial attempt to implement D'Antoni's run-and-gun system on an aging roster and the lack of consistent post-offense have resulted in an excessive amount of turnovers.
However, with the Lakers continuing to grow comfortable with one another and formulating team chemistry, they should only improve.
Also, with Gasol back in the mix, his ability to create takes pressure off Bryant to force the issue for his team.
While the Lakers are only 13th in the league in offensive rebounding with 11.6 offensive boards per game, they are third in overall boards with 33.2 rebounds per contest.
There is an easy explanation for both.
Their age makes it hard for them to simultaneously fight for offensive boards while also playing decent transition defense. Simply put, the Lakers' old legs won't allow them to balance both proficiently.
The fact that they are in the top 15 in offensive boards is impressive in itself.
However, their rebounding proficiency can be explained by two key reasons. The first is that the Lakers are a big team.
The second is Dwight Howard.
Despite a lingering back injury that has hindered him throughout the season, Howard has been his traditional self, averaging 12.7 rebounds per game.
With players such as Jamison, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Bryant, all of which are average to above-average rebounding threats for their positions, the Lakers boast a roster with big, strong players that can utilize their strength to close out defensive possessions.
The Lakers are 29th in the league in fast-break points, scoring 15.9 points per game in transition.
Despite the prowess scoring the ball in the half-court, the Lakers are a poor fast-break team.
While it's true that playoff basketball is contested at a slower pace and fast-break points are mitigated, the Lakers' aging legs are in desperate need of easy baskets to alleviate the grind they'll have to go through.
While it might seem counterintuitive to emphasize the fast break for a team with aging legs, consider the San Antonio Spurs.
With Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili beginning to age, they sped up the pace to lessen the grind of the half-court game.
In essence, they tried to exchange the physical battles of the half-court set with the conditioning required in transition.
Although this weakness can't be easily rectified given the structure of the roster, there is no doubt that some emphasis on transition offense would allow injury-prone players such as Nash to maximize their strengths while limiting their injury risks.
While their age might be a hindrance in terms of endurance and stamina, there is no doubt the Lakers possess players with proven playoff experience.
Of course, Bryant and his indomitable will has led the Lakers to five championships.
His mental toughness and fearlessness are essential to the fabric of a playoff team. Bryant's ability to score in a multitude of ways, especially via isolation plays and by posting up, allow him to impose his will on games that slow as crunch time nears.
Players such as Nash, Gasol and Metta World Peace have extensive resumes in the postseason that should allow the Lakers to stay competitive despite their age.
Even Howard, who's one of the younger players on the roster, has had experience leading his Orlando Magic team to the NBA Finals.
With players who knows what it takes to win games in the playoffs and have had experience playing that style, Los Angeles is well-suited to make the proper adjustments once the playoff pace sets in.
Also, with veteran players, the Lakers will know to keep things on an even keel. A win shouldn't foster overconfidence just as a loss shouldn't be too demoralizing. The playoffs are a grind, and the veterans understand how to gut it out.
Despite possessing a defensive juggernaut in Howard, the Lakers have not been able to put it all together on the defensive end this season.
Allowing 101.3 points per game, which is 24th in the league, the Lakers have glaring weaknesses.
For several seasons, dating to Derek Fisher's final tenure with the Lakers, they have had trouble stopping opposing point guards.
While Bryant has the ability to guard the opponents' best perimeter players, his scoring abilities are more essential.
Thus, with Bryant playing off the opponent's point guard most of the time, their inability to stop penetration from point guards has been a major bane in their defensive schemes.
This is most apparent from the 44.4 points per game the Lakers allow in the paint, which is 26th in the league.
Their inability to guard against penetration is a weakness that many teams will try to exploit.
Assuming the Lakers make the playoffs, they will face off against Tony Parker or Russell Westbrook, two point guards who could hurt them on the perimeter.
With Howard still working on the timing that made him a defensive juggernaut in Orlando, the Lakers might need Bryant to compensate for the defensive deficiencies of Nash, Blake and the other point guards on this roster.