5 Things to Watch for During the LA Lakers' Final Games
For the Los Angeles Lakers, there won't be an epic turnaround this season. Last year, the Lakers made a thrilling push toward the promised land. In an epic turn of events, Kobe Bryant used his last legs to will the Lakers into the playoffs before succumbing to a freak injury to his Achilles tendon. There won't be a redemption story this time around. The downward spiral that began last year cycled out of control, as this season looks to be one of the worst in franchise history.
It isn't just the losing. Teams go through cycles of winning and losing. This is a natural part of the NBA. It is the manner in which the Lakers disintegrated over the course of the past two seasons that has been the final nail in the broken hearts of the Lakers fans.
While the Lakers have been playing better as of late, they are now nothing more than spoilers for potential playoff teams. While fans can find solace in the competitiveness the Lakers have shown recently, the only thing they can hope for is to retain some of the talent on this roster for next season while landing a high lottery pick.
Just because the Lakers won't be making the playoffs doesn't mean the Lakers' final stretch isn't important. There are a lot of things that management should look at in order to figure out how to proceed from this debacle of a season.
Chris Kaman's Playing Time
As reported by Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Chris Kaman was benched for 10 consecutive games in March before exploding for 28 points, 17 rebounds and six assists against the Phoenix Suns to finish off the month with a bang.
He was also responsible for being the voice of the voiceless in terms of addressing Mike D'Antoni's inconsistent rotations. When D'Antoni indicated that he went away from Kaman after only six minutes of playing time in favor of the younger post players during a recent game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kaman responded by pointing out that D'Antoni still went with Steve Nash despite Nash being 40 years old.
Although it does make sense for D'Antoni to give the younger players more opportunities with the season all but lost, there is no doubt that with Pau Gasol sidelined, Kaman is the most talented big man on the roster. Despite their mediocrity and the fact that the more losses they have, the higher chance they have of a top lottery pick, a coach's job is still to win games.
Kaman has produced very decent numbers when given the playing time this season, and it will be interesting to see whether the big man will continue to see minutes after that dry spell with Gasol's return on the horizon.
Can Xavier Henry Finish Strong?
Spending the roster alternating his time between the bench and the court due to injuries, Xavier Henry showed a lot of talent and guts this season as a part of the Lakers' bench.
As reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA, Henry has been suffering from a sore knee as well as dealing with a torn ligament in his wrist. He has also missed time with a bone bruise and some abnormalities with the lateral meniscus in his knee.
Although Henry has a lot of talent, he didn't really show consistent productivity until this year, when he seemed to thrive as one of the few players on the roster who could penetrate and create off the dribble. He seemed to be a good fit in this system and was one of the key components to the Lakers' 10-9 start.
With his contract expiring this season, it will be interesting to see if Henry can finish the season strong and perhaps earn himself a nice contract from the Lakers or any other team in need of his talents.
Will There Be Another Steve Nash Sighting on the Court?
After being completely shut down for the remainder of the season earlier in the year, injuries to the Lakers' roster have forced Steve Nash back. While it looks like he'll be shut down again, he did manage to play in two games recently, including a trouncing by the Minnesota Timberwolves in late March.
With him being back despite being ruled out earlier in the season, the Lakers and their fans should not overlook the possibility that Nash could be back for another game or two before the season concludes.
While not much can truly be derived from such a small sample size of games, it is still interesting to see what the grizzled veteran is capable of in scant minutes. With the Lakers likely to retain Nash for the final year of his contract next season, it is important to see how much more the guard can contribute in the swan song of his career.
Another Nash sighting on the court can go a long way in determining if Nash can give the Lakers a reasonable amount of games next season.
Kendall Marshall's Consistent Play
Perhaps the one bright spot in a season of misery, injuries and controversy has been the consistent play of Kendall Marshall.
Averaging roughly eight points and nine assists on the season, Marshall is a throwback to the prototypical pass-first point guards of eras past. While not as flashy as Steve Nash was in his prime, Marshall has the same mentality in terms of shooting when he needs to and focusing primarily on getting his teammates involved.
He has also shown some leadership qualities as well, directing traffic on the offensive end and being vocal on and off of the court. As reported by Corey Hansford from Lakers Nation, Kendall has been candid and open in terms of discussing why the Lakers aren't a good team. The fact that he has called his team out on their effort and consistency indicates that he is candid and transparent in his assessment of the current situation.
Given the chance to play alongside Kobe Bryant if he returns next season, it will be a refreshing change for Bryant to return to his cold-blooded, scoring focus while Marshall can handle the distributing duties that the Black Mamba has had to shoulder the past two seasons.
If Marshall continues at the pace he is going, the Lakers will have no choice but to try and re-sign him once this season concludes.
Will the Lakers Compete or Tank?
With the Lakers winning four of their last 10 games, they are still playing subpar basketball. However, they have been competitive for some of those games and have shown that their offensive firepower is still dangerous despite their lack of talent.
This means that the Lakers can be very dangerous spoilers for teams still jockeying for playoff positions or for fringe teams still fighting to get their way into the playoffs.
It will be interesting to see if Mike D'Antoni is resilient in what could be his final stretch as the head coach of the Lakers by trying to generate statement victories or if he'll try and develop the younger players while tanking the season.
Whichever one it is, there will definitely be a difference in opinion. Some of the Lakers fans will be too proud to see the Lakers fold meekly into the lottery. Showing fight and grit to end a season full of injuries and mishaps could still allow the Lakers faithful to hold their heads up high. However, tanking the rest of the season would make the most basketball sense in terms of increasing the chances that the Lakers get the top pick in the draft.
Either way, it will be interesting to see how the Lakers write the last passage on a season that has already been labeled a colossal failure.
All statistics are accurate as of March 30, 2014 and are from NBA.com/Stats unless otherwise noted.
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