Can LA Lakers Make a Run If Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash Return Soon?

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Can LA Lakers Make a Run If Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash Return Soon?
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The Los Angeles Lakers have lost their way without Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash to guide them.

In a word—no.

Adding another—no chance.

Even the return of two former MVPs won't save the Los Angeles Lakers' season now, no matter how quickly Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash come back.

It's over.

The Lakers sit 13th in the West heading into Tuesday night's action, nine-and-a-half games out of the final playoff spot and just a precarious half-game up from being in the Western Conference cellar.

Their offense has lost all its usual potency, ranking 22nd in the league in points per possession.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Without Bryant as the focal point, the Lakers' offense has stagnated.

During Kobe Bryant's tenure in Los Angeles, the Lakers have never finished lower than 11th in that category.

Defensively it's even worse, as L.A. rates 26th in the NBA in points allowed per possession. That's not surprising given the roster composition and the way Mike D'Antoni likes to play.

No team has allowed their opponents to attempt more field goals in the restricted area than the Lakers. And it's not even that close. The Boston Celtics, who surrender the third most attempts at the hoop, are closer to 17th in that category than they are to the Lakers.

And only the Philadelphia 76ers allow more corner-three attempts than L.A.

Corner-three-point attempts and field goals right at the rim are the two juiciest shots in basketball—the shots that every offense aims to generate on each possession—and the Lakers give up those prime looks more frequently than any other team in the league.

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With L.A. already among the league's most porous defenses, there won't be anywhere to hide Steve Nash on that end once he returns to action.

Bryant and Nash—two notably subpar defenders—won't help any in that department.

Where they can be of use, however, is on the offensive end.

The two haven't played a single minute together this season, but in 2013 the Lakers were vastly superior on offense when their two starting guards were on the court at the same time.

According to NBA Wowy, in the 1,422 minutes Bryant and Nash played together last year, L.A. scored 109.2 points per 100 possessions—a mark that would have ranked third in the entire league.

When both were off the court, the Lakers only mustered 101 points per 100 possessions—roughly equivalent to the 20th-ranked Celtics' output and almost identical to the rate they have scored at this season (per NBA Wowy).

So, theoretically, getting Bryant and Nash back in the lineup would instantly vault their offense into the league's upper echelon.

But let's not forget that both of these guys are coming off of serious injuries that have caused them to miss more time than they ever have in their careers. There's no guarantee they'll ever get back to the levels they were at even one year ago.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Bryant and Nash may spend more time together in the training room than on the court this season.

Oh, and they're both in their 18th season in the NBA and will be a combined 75 years old (!) after Nash turns 40 on Feb. 7.

We saw how rusty Bryant was in his first comeback earlier this season. It will take quite some time for them to get back into any sort of rhythm.

Time, though, is definitely not on L.A.'s side.

The projected win total of the current No. 8 seed in the West is 46. The Lakers would have to win 30 of their 37 remaining games just to match that.

And they would have to leapfrog five teams along the way.

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Meanwhile, only four teams in the entire league have a worse nightly point differential than the Lakers—not a good sign for their future prospects.

Even when Bryant and Nash get back on the court, the rest of the conference is too stacked and the rest of the roster is too weak for the Lakers to even dream about a postseason berth.

So unless you define "making a run" as "playing .500 ball", the Lakers should set their sights not on the playoffs, but on the all-important draft lottery instead.

 

Note: All statistics as of January 26. Advanced statistics courtesy of NBA.com unless otherwise noted.

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