Critical Adjustments LA Lakers Must Make to Keep Their Playoff Hopes Alive
The Los Angeles Lakers are down 2-0 to the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs, and after an injury to Steve Blake and the possible re-aggravation of an injury to Steve Nash, their hopes for advancing are officially on life support.
Losing star guard Kobe Bryant for the remainder of the season is bad enough, but now the Lakers must make what could be their final home stand of the year without their top-four guards.
Blake has been ruled out indefinitely, Nash is visibly hobbled and listed as doubtful for Game Three and head coach Mike D'Antoni says there is a better chance that Nash plays than back up guard Jodie Meeks, who missed Game Two with a sprained ankle.
If none of the above mentioned guards can go when the series shifts to Los Angeles, the only perimeter players standing between a first round sweep and respectability are Darius Morris, Chris Duhon and Andrew Goudelock.
Those don't seem like decent odds when you consider that seasoned veterans Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are on the other sideline.
Thankfully for the Lakers, any success against San Antonio was never going to depend on their back court in the first place.
Even with a healthy Kobe, the Lakers were never going to beat the Spurs without maximizing their biggest advantage. And if the Lakers really want to end this series on a competitive note, following these steps couldn't hurt.
5-Concentrate on the Little Things
Ball security was an issue for the Lakers throughout most of the regular season, and it was once again a theme during their first two losses against the Spurs.
To be fair, beating San Antonio will certainly involve more than taking care of the ball, but if the Lakers continue to average more than 15 turnovers per game they don't even have a chance.
Especially when San Antonio has only committed 17 turnovers in two games themselves.
Both teams have looked sloppy at times during the series, but the Spurs can afford a few mental lapses early since Parker and Ginobili will be finishing games late.
The Lakers have no such luxury, and the maddening thing about their carelessness is that it can mostly be boiled down to a lack of concentration and discipline.
Dribbling, passing and catching the ball are three of the most basic, fundamental aspects of the game, but the Lakers seem to make it look like rocket science.
The Lakers' turnover issues might derive from a lack of focus or preparation, but if that's true then D'Antoni should shoulder the blame.
The Lakers' coach knew, or should have known that his team stood no chance at all if they couldn't take care of the basketball, and instead of playing to that reality they have actually increased their level of ineptitude.
4- Hang Your Hopes on Defense
There are silver linings in every cloud and for the Lakers that may come in the trade-off they get by substituting Nash and Blake for Duhon and Morris.
Morris and Duhon may not have the same offensive reputation as Nash and Blake but they are more athletic and both have the potential to thrive on the defensive end of the floor.
Improving the Lakers' defense has been a recurring theme for most of the year, but unless the team begins to pay more than lip service to the concept then this series is over.
At some point the Lakers must prevent Parker and Ginobili from penetrating the defense and getting to the rim, and ironically Morris and Duhon give them a better chance at getting stops at the point of attack than any of their injured guards.
3-Free Earl Clark!
Lakers' forward Earl Clark seemed destined to assume a regular role in the team's postseason rotation after averaging 23.5 minutes per game during the regular season, but so far in the Lakers' first two playoff games Clark has averaged only 12.5 minutes.
Pau Gasol's return has certainly cut into Clark's court time, but after witnessing Clark's versatility during the regular season it's hard to imagine D'Antoni finding more minutes for him now.
Forward Antawn Jamison has been the main beneficiary of Clark's demotion, which might be a nod to his superior offensive ability. In fairness, Clark doesn't have Jamison's niche for scoring from any part of the court at any angle, but scoring isn't anything.
Unlike Jamison, Clark can also serve as a secondary ball handler but more importantly he is capable of playing strong defense.
The Lakers will never advance based on Jamison's scoring, but they can at least compete with strong defense, rebounding and timely baskets from Clark.
Defense, however, is the key word in any comparison between Clark and Jamison and when it comes to the Spurs, which aspect of the game does Los Angeles need most?
2- Dictate the Pace
The Spurs are a dangerous half-court team on offense, but in transition they can be deadly.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, San Antonio is probably good enough either way to win this series, but if the Lakers allow it to become a track meet they can begin preparing for their summer vacations after Friday night's game.
The Spurs can score in a variety of ways off their fast break and since the Lakers have trouble defending the perimeter and the rim, their best chances may rest in slowing the game's pace to a crawl.
Defense is much easier to play when you have an opportunity to survey your opponent's offensive sets, and the Lakers' advantage in the paint is best utilized when Dwight Howard and Gasol are able to plant and square up on their men.
In order to control the pace and the Spurs' break, Los Angeles must score efficiently and dominate the boards which is definitely in the realm of possibility.
The Lakers grabbed 44 rebounds to the Spurs 43 in Game One, and while their 41.7 percent from the field was nothing to brag about, it was still better than the 37 percent San Antonio shot themselves.
The Lakers played the type of game they needed to in order to steal a game in San Antonio, if they would have been able to limit their miscues.
1-Abandon the Perimeter
Howard and Gasol are averaging a combined 32.5 points and 24.5 rebounds per game so far for the Lakers, and it's not nearly enough.
The Lakers have made their best athlete and most skilled player the focus of their offensive attack, but right now that focus should be exclusive out of necessity and practicality.
If none of the Lakers' top guards are able to play in the next two games, they should expect very little offensive production from their replacements.
And that's probably the way it should be anyway.
Jump shots won't beat the Spurs, and the Lakers can't hit them anyway, plus they lost the only player capable of consistently creating his own offense when Bryant went down.
But the Lakers have had some success feeding the ball to Howard and Gasol in the paint, and their efforts should become more forceful.
Even though Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter have garnered praise for their spirited performances against the Lakers' big men, I would still favor a steady, consistent dose of Howard and Gasol in the long run.
And at this point what do the Lakers have to lose? Howard still says the Lakers have a real chance at coming back to win this series, why not give him a chance to prove it?