After a tumultuous start to the season, the Los Angeles Lakers have struggled to overcome the talent deficit that hindered them after Dwight Howard's departure. However, the team does have a lot of overachieving talent that did show flashes of competitiveness.
Because of a series of unfortunate injuries to many of their key players, the Lakers haven't had a chance to truly develop into a cohesive unit. Despite their inability to stay healthy, the Lakers have a lot of players who fit into D'Antoni's run-and-gun system.
If the Lakers can make some key adjustments, this squad could possibly be a competitive force in the playoff race.
Besides the Portland Trail Blazers, the Los Angeles Lakers allow their opponents to score the most points in the paint per game. Allowing 47.7 points per game in the paint, the Lakers simply don't have the shot-blocking personnel to allow opponents to wander in the paint.
While teams with shot-blockers like the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Houston Rockets can allow for some leeway in terms of defensive mistakes, the Lakers can't afford that luxury. Without a dependable shot-blocker on the team, the Lakers need to prevent interior scoring by stopping dribble penetration.
Although the Lakers don't have the big men to truly enforce their will on the interior, they have the athletes and the talent at the guard spots to do a much better job at denying entry into the paint.
Guards such as Xavier Henry, Nick Young and Wesley Johnson all have the length and athleticism to stick on their defenders or rotate defensively. Despite the fact the Lakers emphasize and correct their deficiencies on offence, their main weakness remains their defense.
The key to trying to fix their defense is to shore up the perimeter in order to protect the paint.
In six games, Kobe Bryant seemed like he was still trying to find his sea legs on a team that had a lot less talent than he was used to. Averaging 13.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, Bryant has had a hard time being efficient and careful with the ball.
Shooting 42.5 percent from the field while turning the ball over 5.7 times per game, Bryant didn't have a lot of time to adjust to the speed of the NBA game before being shelved by a knee injury.
In the new year, what Laker fans would like to see most is the return of the dominant and strong-willed Black Mamba and whether or not he can mesh with this unit and lead them back into the playoffs.
While he was sloppier with the ball, there is no doubt that his skills still remained. Like Michael Jordan before him, Bryant's game transitioned from athletic plays to primarily operating out of the post or out of isolation plays. While it isn't a guarantee, Bryant may still be able to regain his scoring prowess because of the fact that his scoring comes from his skills and his fundamentals rather than his athleticism.
Bryant was also always regarded as one of the best ball-handlers at his position. This wasn't the case in his first six games this season, but his ball-handling skills should return to form in the new year.
If Bryant can return to his facilitating ways from last season, the Lakers should have a chance to sneak into the backdoor of the playoffs.
During the Lakers' most recent two titles, they have always had a fearsome bench. With Lamar Odom leading the squad, the Lakers were one of the rare teams to not have a major dropoff once hitting their substitutes.
At the start of this season, the Lakers had a very good bench as well. With Nick Young and Jordan Farmar all settling into important roles off the bench, the Lakers bench has scored 45.4 points per game, according to Hoops Stats.
With injuries to Chris Kaman, Kobe Bryant, Xavier Henry, Jordan Farmar, Steve Blake and Steve Nash throughout the season, the Lakers' starting lineup continued to shift and change to reflect the adversity. This has disrupted the flow of the bench and mitigated the Lakers' success this season.
If the Lakers are able to re-establish clear roles after their players return from their injuries, perhaps the bench mob can reignite the Lakers' season.
While Steve Nash's basketball career looks like it is at death's door, there is still hope that Nash can return and help Mike D'Antoni bring his run-and-gun brand of basketball to L.A. as originally intended. There is clearly a glimmer of optimism Nash can turn this season around despite the realism that stems from his age and injury history.
At this point in his career, Steve Nash is a spot-up shooter who is also a defensive liability on the other end. However, he can still be effective in spurts, and his history running D'Antoni's offence could help him guide the Lakers toward the Showtime-esque offence that was expected from D'Antoni's signing.
Although it is prudent to expect Nash to call it a career based on the myriad of injuries that have afflicted him these past few years, there is no doubt that Captain Canada's return could be a morale booster for the Lakers.
Regardless of what is realistically expected from him, there is no doubt Nash's return is still eagerly anticipated.
Despite having talented interior scorers like Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman and even Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have not utilized the traditional post-up.
The Lakers' half-court sets usually consist of isolation plays, passing around the perimeter or drive-and-kicks. Against more fundamentally sound defensive squads, the Lakers offence tends to get stagnant. Even if the Lakers were to just use the post-up to jump start a stagnated offence, they'd be making progress toward improving their half-court sets.
Even though Gasol is one of the most versatile bigs in the league, Pau works best out of the low post. In D'Antoni's offence, Gasol has been more of a high-post player and a stretch 4 rather than an interior scorer.
While defense is clearly its main weakness, the Lakers offence can become more consistent and less streaky if it works to get the ball into the interior. Chris Kaman may not be the best pick-and-roll player, but he is a good interior scorer and passer, and it looked like he and Gasol were able to develop a nice rapport in the preseason when working out of the post.
Creating a good dynamic between Gasol and Kaman by utilizing them in the post could be the key to the Lakers' potential playoff push.