L.A. Lakers Can't Get Caught Up in Playoff Race Just Yet

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 1, 2013

Feb 28, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24)  in the first half of the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Scoreboard watching is inevitable in a playoff race, but the L.A. Lakers would be best served by focusing on themselves for the time being. After all, they've got enough issues of their own to consider before they start worrying about how the teams immediately above them in the standings are faring.

With ongoing chemistry issues, a lack of depth and the doggedly persistent media circus that turns every soundbite into World War III, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers have their hands full as it is.

But it sure is tempting to look at that ever-shrinking deficit in the Western Conference standings and start to get ideas about the postseason. And with Thursday night's win over the Minnesota Timberwolves cutting the Houston Rockets' hold on the eighth and final playoff spot to just two games over the Lakers, avoiding that temptation is only going to get harder.

For what it's worth, those other teams don't seem too concerned about what the Lakers are doing.

So it's best that the Lakers adopt the same disinterest and focus instead on working out their own issues.

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For starters, coach Mike D'Antoni needs to figure out whether he's ever going to pick a style and stick with it. Since tossing out the Princeton offense with Mike Brown, the Lakers have kicked around a seemingly endless parade of trial-and-error offenses.

D'Antoni was supposed to implement his pet system, but thanks to a lack of patience and the wrong personnel to begin with, the Lakers aren't running anything that resembles a run-and-gun, point guard-dominant offense.

Instead, Kobe Bryant alternately runs things by scoring or setting up teammates, depending on how the mood strikes him on a given night. That tactic has somehow led to recent success, as the Lakers have won 11 of their past 16 games, but it's still a little too dependent on one player to be a viable strategy for the long term.

If D'Antoni can find a way to feature multiple threats—by utilizing his two-time MVP point guard or still very good center, maybe?—instead of using Bryant as a predictable focal point, the Lakers would suddenly become a much more dangerous offensive outfit.

And besides that, defense is still a major issue.

L.A. resides right in the middle of the NBA pack in terms of defensive efficiency, and until its perimeter players at least start to pretend to care about stopping their opponents, that doesn't figure to change.

In addition, Pau Gasol, an integral piece of the Lakers' past two title runs, is still sidelined by a torn plantar fascia. Despite the fact that he hasn't fit at all with D'Antoni's constantly changing offensive system, it'd still be nice to have another All-Star seven-footer to toss out there if he returns in time for any regular-season games.

His reintegration into the team, even if his comeback is uncertain, should be a much higher priority than monitoring the competition.

But let's be realistic; as long as there's even a little hope of a Laker playoff berth (and there's more than a little now), everyone besides the team itself will pore over the data to try to figure out scenarios for L.A. to make the dance.

And the Lakers should let everyone else worry about that stuff. They need to control what they can, try to get better in their areas of weakness and come together as a team.

That's the only way they'll be able to close the gap on the teams currently in the playoff ladder. Based on the focus L.A. showed against the Timberwolves, it looks like it's on the right track.

But anyway, who do the Rockets play tomorrow?