Los Angeles Lakers: Five Reasons Their NBA Title Hopes Are in Serious Jeopardy
Can we officially hit the panic button now?
The Lakers enter the NBA's All-Star break on a three-game skid. Now, they find themselves in third place in the Western Conference standings, trailing the Dallas Mavericks by three games in the loss column for the No. 2 seed.
A once promising "Grammy's Road Trip" started out 4-0 (including a win over the Celtics), only to finish 4-3, ending with a humiliating loss to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers, one of the worst teams in NBA history.
With just 25 games remaining in the season, the Lakers will have to turn things around in a hurry in order to have home court advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs. It appears almost certain they will not have home court in the Western Conference Finals or the NBA Finals—should they make it that far.
This should give fans a genuine reason to panic, as we need not look further back than last June to realize how far playing games six and seven in LA went towards determining the outcome of the 2010 NBA Finals.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the five reasons the Lakers' chances of a achieving a three-peat appear to be in serious jeopardy.
5. Thee Point Shooting Has Disappeared
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What was once considered a strength in the beginning of the season, is now viewed as major issue for this perimeter challenged bunch.
The Lakers led the league in three-point field goal percentage during the early part of the season but now rank 16th out of 30 teams.
They're currently shooting at a 35.5 percent clip, which averages out to just 6.5 made 3's for the 18 attempts they take per night.
Kobe Bryant, a career 34 percent three point shooter, is making only 31 percent of this shots from behind the three point line this year—his lowest percentage since the 2001-02 season.
Could this be a result of the injured trigger finger that plagued him for most of last season? The one he opted to not have surgery on over the summer?
If the Lakers have any plans on winning their third straight NBA title this year, they must shoot the ball better from the outside. This will stretch the defense and afford Bynum and Gasol more room to operate down low.
4. Team Defense
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The Lakers won the NBA Title last year because of their tenacious defense in games six and seven. They won game six 89-67 and game seven at 83-79. I doubt there have been too many teams who won the NBA title by not breaking 90 in the last two games of a series.
The heart of the defense last year was Ron Artest, who flustered Paul Pierce into a combined 11 for 29 over the final two games. Artest has struggled mightily this season on offense and is averaging career lows across the board. Many think it has contributed to him taking a step back defensively as well.
The Lakers rank 11th in the NBA in points allowed, giving up 96.4 points per game. This number is a little deceiving, considering the Lakers rank 5th in opponents field goal percentage—a more accurate indicator of how well a team is playing defense.
Nonetheless, if the Lakers have any dreams of hosting another parade in June, they must tighten things up on the defensive end by speeding up their rotations.
3. The Small Forward Position
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Let's be honest, Ron Artest is simply not getting the job done this year. His mind appears to be elsewhere, and he seems extremely content with winning his first title last season. He has become a huge liability on the offensive end and his defense appears to have taken a step back this year.
The Lakers were wise during the offseason, recognizing that Artest was not the player he once was and signed Matt Barnes to a free agent contract. Unfortunately, Barnes tore his MCL six weeks ago and won't return, at the earliest, until March 1st.
The Lakers are going to need a healthy and productive Matt Barnes for the playoffs in order to hang banner number 17.
It doesn't seem likely that Artest will suddenly begin producing at a high level, and Barnes has the potential to not only provide a spark off the bench, but possibly crack the starting lineup when he returns.
He's much more athletic than Artest and creates an equal amount of havoc defensively. If he can knock down the open three in transition, look for an uptick in his minutes come April.
2. Their Age
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As the rest of the league seemingly gets younger and more athletic, the Lakers appear to be getting older and even more plodding. Kobe Bryant has often looked a step slow this year, as a result of the wear and tear of 15 seasons, three knee surgeries, and annual deep runs into the postseason.
Now, let's keep in mind that we said this same thing about him last year after he combined for 25 points on 19 shots in games four and five against Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs. After that, he promptly had his knee drained and went out and scored at least 30 points in 11 of the next 12 playoff games.
Age isn't necessarily a bad thing when you consider all of the experience that goes along with winning NBA Championships. But unless the Lakers can impose their will on their opponents by slowing the game down to half court style of play and pounding the ball inside, they can often get run out of the gym by younger, more athletic teams like Oklahoma City or Miami.
I think this is probably the most overrated reason I have listed when considering the age of the top teams like Boston and San Antonio. However, it's worth keeping an eye on, especially at the point guard position where Derek Fisher is consistently dominated by the opposing team's point guard.
1. Their Attitude
Have you ever seen a team that appears to care less about the outcome of these regular season games than the Lakers?
Look, I know that this team has proven that they can "flip the switch" in the past, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee that they can do it again this year.
A team's attitude is often a reflection of its head coach, and Phil Jackson is, without a doubt, the most subdued of any head coach in the NBA. It doesn't help that Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol are two of the most laid back players in the league.
If Kobe Bryant wants to get fitted for his sixth ring, he's going to have to, once again, impose his nasty streak on the rest of his teammates come mid-April, or there will not be another parade in downtown LA this June.