Fact vs. Fiction from LA Lakers' NBA Playoffs Performance
While the Los Angeles Lakers entered the playoffs with a very inspirational story and an underdog status that wasn't expected from them, there is no doubt that the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood spotlight unveiled various perceptions and misconceptions about this team.
In fact, no other team in the league has accumulated as variable a host of misconceptions as this team.
Ranging from beliefs that the roster was a contender on paper to the belief that the team wasn't built to withstand the rigors of an NBA season due to its age, the Lakers' first-round exit did wonders to alleviate the myths and illuminate the facts.
Though it was obvious that the Lakers may have been much more competitive in the first round of the playoffs with Kobe Bryant still in their ranks, it was unclear prior to the series whether or not the Lakers would have stood a chance at winning the series even if the Black Mamba was still in uniform.
These, and other unclear myths can be separated into fact and fiction following the San Antonio Spurs' sweep of the Lakers.
1. Fiction: The Lakers Could Have Won the Series If Kobe Bryant Were Healthy
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Given how the series played out, it was obvious that the Lakers would not have won against the San Antonio Spurs even if they had Kobe Bryant at optimum capacity.
The Los Angeles Lakers were notoriously bad at keeping players out of the paint. At 26th in the NBA in terms of opponents' points in the paint a game, the Lakers allowed their opponents to score an average of 44.1 points a game.
Most of these points were scored via dribble penetration from the perimeter. With Howard not being close to his old self due to his early return from back surgery, the Lakers' defense never came together.
The Lakers struggled with their perimeter defense and keeping quicker guards out of the paint even with a healthy Black Mamba.
With Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili firing on all cylinders during the first round, the Lakers wouldn't have been able to rectify their season-long weakness even if they had Bryant to stick on one of the guards.
Even if Bryant was able to neutralize one of the guards, he would expend a lot of that energy on the defensive end and wouldn't be as efficient on the offensive end.
Parker has become an elite point guard in recent years. Though he was always known as a scorer and he has been lauded for his improved perimeter shooting, he has also been an excellent creator for his teammates.
With the ability to slither into the paint and kick out to open shooters, he was impossible to stop for the Lakers as expected.
A healthy Bryant would not have negated the massive perimeter hole the Lakers have had all season, which is what the Spurs used to defeat the Lakers.
2. Fact: The Lakers' Core Can Be Competitive in the Western Conference
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Considering the Los Angeles Lakers' core players to be Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, there is no question that the Lakers can be very competitive in a difficult Western Conference with a healthy core.
While the Lakers surged into the playoffs on the back of Bryant's impressive play, don't discount the chemistry that began to develop between Gasol and Howard.
Although they weren't as proficient as Gasol had been when he had a tandem with Andrew Bynum, they had begun to develop the two-man game that made Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph so dangerous in Memphis.
Even though Bryant didn't play against the San Antonio Spurs due to his injury, Gasol and Howard showed flashes of great potential against the Spurs.
With a depleted lineup, the Lakers had a hard time creating offense for themselves and the Spurs were able to collapse on Howard and Gasol and make things difficult for them.
Despite the difficulty of orchestrating an offense without their primary scorer and facilitator in Bryant, Howard and Gasol were able to combine for 31.0 points per game.
Howard shot 61.9 percent from the field while Gasol shot 48.1 percent.
Though the blame could be placed on both players for missing a lot of free throws and not being able to create for their teammates effectively, the onus of the blame for the Lakers' losses could arguably be put upon injuries and the lack of a real system outside of using Bryant as a conduit, which was unavailable for obvious reasons.
Remember, Gasol, Howard and Bryant haven't had a full training camp together. With a retooled bunch of role players and a training camp to really formulate a productive and consistent system, the Lakers can still be dangerous with this core.
3. Fiction: Steve Nash Can Still Be a Dynamic Player in This League
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While Mike D'Antoni still had faith in Steve Nash prior to the Los Angeles Lakers' first-round matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, it is clear that Nash is too old and too hobbled to be the difference maker he was in Phoenix.
His absence during this series, as well as the games he had missed during the entirety of the season, show that even when Nash is feeling healthy, his ailing back and aging body just can't stand up to the rigors of an NBA season any longer.
Playing only two of the four games the Lakers played in the playoffs, he managed to average 12.5 points and close to five assists in 30.5 minutes per game.
While those numbers are decent, the most telling number from this small sample size are his assists.
These numbers are quite low for Nash, and while cold shooting from his teammates could attribute to his low assist numbers, Nash just isn't the creator he used to be.
Nash in his prime still couldn't stop Tony Parker, but he could give Parker a tough time on the other end of the court.
This time around, Parker had his way with the ailing Nash and stifled him on both ends of the court. While Nash is still one of the best shooters in the league, expecting him to compete with and overcome the quicker and better point guards in the league isn't reasonable at this point in his career.
Nash fared a little better assist-wise in the regular season, averaging close to seven assists in 32.5 minutes per game. However, he wasn't able to maintain this higher level of play, only playing in 50 games this season, which is the second-lowest number in his career.
The games he played in during the series and the games he has missed this entire season are telling signs that Nash is not the savior D'Antoni professed him to be.
4. Fiction: Mike D'Antoni Can Lead the Lakers Back to Contention
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As this season, and the series against the San Antonio Spurs showed in particular, Mike D'Antoni is not the man to lead the Los Angeles Lakers back to contention.
D'Antonio has never been a man that was known for his proficiency in coaching defense.
He is known for innovating the run-and-gun system he utilized with the Phoenix Suns. His offense was predicated on surrounding a two-man pick-and-roll game with three-point shooters that spread the floor. While this was his go-to system for the half court, he liked to push the break and take the first available shot every time down the floor.
When his system couldn't conform to an aging roster that didn't have the shooters or the athletes to run at D'Antoni's desired tempo, he never found a real answer for this and it showed against the Spurs.
While the Lakers surged on the back of Kobe Bryant and his change into more of a creator and distributor, his absence showed the gaping holes in D'Antoni's ability to alter his system to fit this roster.
Although Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol did manage to form some sort of cohesion as the season ended, the Lakers did not have a consistent means of initiating an offense.
On the other end, D'Antoni couldn't find a way to rectify the Lakers' glaring weakness in terms of preventing penetration and protecting the paint.
It is a bit harsh to lay the onus of the blame on D'Antoni for not shoring up a perimeter defense that has been weak even during their most recent championship years, it is clear that the weakness is even more glaring given their regression on offense.
Assuming Howard re-signs with the Lakers, the Lakers would need to run a system that shores up their defense and focuses on a post-oriented offense that utilizes Gasol and Howard in the paint in a similar manner to the big men in Memphis.
With Bryant showing his ability to be a floor general and the primary creator and ball-handler, the Lakers are in desperate need of a half-court system that can allow them to drill the ball into the paint with their two All-Star big men.
D'Antoni is simply not the man to coach this type of system.
5. Fact: Kobe Bryant Is the Lakers' Best Hope of Returning to Prominence
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Despite his age and the wear and tear on his body, Kobe Bryant has been the heart and soul of the Los Angeles Lakers' last five championship runs and is essential in transitioning the Lakers back to prominence.
Bryant isn't the overwhelming dominant offensive and defensive threat he used to be.
While his averages of 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and six assists in 38.6 minutes per game this season are right where his career averages have been for the entirety of his career, he took a pretty significant step back on the defensive end in terms of consistency.
Bryant simply can't exert an equal amount of effort and production on both ends of the court like he used to.
If he is tasked with locking down his man, his offense will have to suffer. Subsequently, an emphasis on scoring would mean that his defensive intensity would lessen to accommodate for his scoring.
With that being said, Bryant is still an essential part of any Lakers resurgence because he keeps the players on the team composed, focused and determined.
While this may be grating on players like Dwight Howard, who aren't used to his overbearing will and intensity, there is no questioning the fact that he leads by example and is one of the most obsessive workaholics in the league.
Without Bryant, the Lakers failed to keep composed against the Spurs. While they were competitive against the Spurs for portions of each of the four losses, they could not sustain the intensity or the focus because they were being led by players who could not command and sustain it.
Howard may be a talented and skilled player, but he is no leader. With an inconsistent temperament and his recent history of indecision, Howard isn't the locker room leader the Lakers need.
Gasol may be a skilled post player and a versatile creator, but his reputation for being soft and folding under pressure was mitigated when fueled by Bryant's encouragement and support.
While Steve Nash had both the intangibles and the offensive skills to be a leader back in his Phoenix days, he is too beaten up and aged to be that leader for the Lakers going forward.
Too often, the Lakers made silly turnovers and took errant jump shots instead of pounding the paint and attacking the post, something Bryant knew to take advantage of.
Although Bryant may dominate the ball and take his share of errant shots, his will and his ability to perform on an elite level in the clutch is a representation of the will the Lakers need to keep from slipping into obscurity.
Without a proven leader to take the reins and lead the Lakers into the next era, the Lakers will need Bryant to keep the ship afloat while Jim Buss restructures this team into the Lakers' next era of basketball.