Lakers' Downward Spiral Raises Plenty of Questions but Has Few Easy Solutions

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterNovember 4, 2014

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — We live in a time when we have video on demand and we text while we drive, so of course we jump to conclusions about the NBA before we even fall back for daylight savings time the first weekend of the season.

The gross exaggerations that Byron Scott fails to understand modern basketball or Kobe Bryant should consider asking for a trade are patently absurd, even as this old-school Byron-Kobe team has indeed—gasp!—lost its first four games for the first time in illustrious Los Angeles Lakers history.

Exactly who expected them to win any of those first four games?!

The Lakers are putting in a new system under a new coach—unlike all four of their opponents so far—with their one star player having played just six shaky games in the past year and a half. They had significant and demoralizing injury absences—unlike all four teams they faced. And without having built a post-Mike D'Antoni defensive identity yet, they were playing four games in five nights for the only time all season…against four excellent offenses.   

Throw in the fact that the Lakers aren't quite stacked with talent in the first place…

With full acknowledgement that 0-4 is as much of a failure as could possibly be recorded right now, it's still a little early to be calling anything or anybody a real failure.

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It's the nature of simplistic sports writing today just to cite the Lakers being last in the league in points allowed and transition defense without even noting their opponents were four of the top eight teams in the league last season in pace—and those teams all possess the kind of talent carryover and continuity for this season that the Lakers can't fathom.

Yes, the onus is going to rest on Scott to prove his discipline will translate into hustle and energy on defense—and not just guards getting back, but having inconsistent bigs such as Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill aggressively and properly showing on pick-and-roll defense.

Blake Griffin and the Clippers tallied 118 points in a win over the Lakers last Friday.
Blake Griffin and the Clippers tallied 118 points in a win over the Lakers last Friday.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

But to condemn Scott or the team for not being ready for prime time right now is ludicrous.

The Los Angeles Clippers were the best offensive team in the NBA last season, and the Houston Rockets were only slightly behind. The two teams the Lakers had to play on the road: the Phoenix Suns, amid the buzz of their opener after the Lakers had played the night before, and the Golden State Warriors, in the Lakers' fourth game of the five nights. The Suns are no slouch at No. 7 in true shooting percentage last season, and the Warriors have been known to hit some threes and pile up pinball-wizard point totals.


Leaks in the Dam: The Lakers Defense through Four Games
Opp PPGNBA RankOpp FG Pct.NBA RankOpp. 3-point Pct.NBA RankDef. EfficiencyNBA Rank

The Lakers face the Suns again Tuesday night, this time at Staples Center, and then have four days without a game to reboot as best they can without Steve Nash and Julius Randle for the season, and Nick Young for probably a few more weeks.

Without question, the Lakers defense had better set a new baseline. Scott is selling the idea that he can have these guys playing more aggressively and physically the majority of the time, even if it means fouling to feed the Lakers' slower game tempo. There are certainly no guarantees such a goal can be met, though, with the current roster and Scott allowing his leader to all but take a pass on defense.

Bryant has been active on defense when games start, but Scott has admitted he wants Bryant to "rest" at that end at times despite it being the team's top priority. That, in conjunction with limiting his minutes, is how Scott hopes to allow Bryant the room to craft a banner individual 19th season.

The eye-popping wraparound dunk and even more impressive hanging reverse layup around DeAndre Jordan on Friday night were evidence that Bryant can still score in the paint, and not just via the safer, lower-percentage fadeaways he leaned on all preseason.

Bryant also had one of his patented in-the-zone streaks with 19 third-quarter points Saturday night in Oakland. He didn't have enough in the tank to close either the third game against the Clippers or the fourth game against the Warriors well, but the Lakers have real reason to feel more confident about Bryant's potency.

The next step is to balance that with more from others, especially starters Jeremy Lin, Boozer and Hill. D'Antoni's expertise was floor spacing, and these Lakers have only briefly flashed any feel on that front.

Kobe Bryant has averaged 24.8 points per game this season while shooting 41.8 percent.
Kobe Bryant has averaged 24.8 points per game this season while shooting 41.8 percent.Ben Margot/Associated Press/Associated Press

Bryant is going to draw a lot of defensive attention, but what he needs to draw is less offensive attention. His teammates have to look for openings on the weak side and not force-feed him the ball. But both Boozer and Hill like to pop out for jumpers, and that makes it hard for Bryant and Lin when no one is rolling through the lane to pull defenders deep.

Lin's greatest success in exhibition games came when paired in pick-and-rolls with Ed Davis, who does consistently move toward the basket and can finish inside. That combo was supposed to be a staple of the Lakers' second unit, with Lin, Young and Randle all creating shots off the bench.

But the injuries have cost the Lakers their depth, and they're scrambling now to find other ways and means. Shot blocker Davis is one of the most intriguing—and one of the Lakers' few—unleashed weapons.

Davis' potential stands in stark contrast to the reality that has been Boozer thus far. His turnovers on three consecutive third-quarter possessions in Phoenix appeared to put that game away, and Boozer has been the most consistent Lakers defender in a completely awful way.

Carlos Boozer has been one of the weakest points on a Lakers defense allowing an NBA-worst 118 points per game through four games.
Carlos Boozer has been one of the weakest points on a Lakers defense allowing an NBA-worst 118 points per game through four games.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

How soon will the Lakers back away from Boozer if the veteran whom Mitch Kupchak counted on as a cornerstone—and a longtime Bryant friend—doesn't improve? Will someone such as Ryan Kelly or Wayne Ellington come from off the grid to offer prolific three-point shooting? Can Lin find his best self and deliver enough victories to make L.A. his home for the future?

Is Scott's approach ("If we were 0-70, then I'd probably panic," he said about the slow start) calm authority or naive bravado?

There are lots and lots of questions about these Lakers, no doubt.

But we can't binge-watch the entire NBA season on Netflix.

Real answers will only come in due time.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.


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