Best and Worst-Case Scenarios for Los Angeles Lakers in the Month of December
December has already proved to be an up-and-down month for the Los Angeles Lakers.
It got off to a flying start with a double-digit win at Detroit for the Lakers' second consecutive victory.
The joy was quickly stifled after three straight defeats by margins of 15-plus points. But a win earlier in the week against old foes in the Sacramento Kings has things looking up again as L.A. visits the Midwest for a three-game swing.
With 10 games still on the docket for December, the narrative told by month's end can go in either direction.
Let's take a look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Lakers as 2014 comes to a close.
Best Case: Byron Scott's New Lineup Works out
There has been a lot of hoopla surrounding Byron Scott's recent demotions of Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer.
It seems bizarre to bench your two biggest offseason acquisitions 20 games into the season, but the theory is rooted in at least some basketball sense.
The Lakers are replacing arguably their two worst individual defenders with perhaps their two best in Ed Davis and Ronnie Price.
Substituting those two would increase the starting lineup's overall effort and intensity on the defensive end, as well as limit the explosive starts L.A.'s opponents were routinely enjoying.
Second-half starts have been particularly troubling for the Lakers. They're allowing an NBA-worst 118.1 points per 100 possessions in the third quarter—an astonishing 15 points worse than league-average.
Davis and Price can combat that trend. And as the month goes along and they get more comfortable in their new roles, the results may begin to speak for themselves.
Worst Case: Scott's Changes Don't Change Anything
The flip side is that Scott may just be reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.
In a limited sample thus far, the recent lineup combinations haven't fixed anything.
Los Angeles' new starting five is getting abused. In 54 minutes together, those players are getting outscored by an ungodly 23.2 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com.
They're not accomplishing what they were designed to, either. The defense has barely budged in a positive direction.
Meanwhile, the offense has cratered with limited contributors Price and Davis stepping in for the more scoring-inclined Lin and Boozer.
An even greater burden is placed on Kobe Bryant to create for himself and everyone around him—something that's not healthy for L.A.'s point production.
On the other hand, the bench has played well. Adding Lin and Boozer to Nick Young and Wayne Ellington has the reserves scoring quite efficiently in the early going.
The second five has played just 20 minutes together, but those players are scoring at a better rate than the league's best offense and are beating opponents by 16 points per 100 possessions.
As nice as that sounds, it doesn't move the needle much because the old bench unit was outscoring the opposition at a good clip as well.
Obviously, the samples are still minuscule. But if the early returns are any indication, Scott's lineup changes may do nothing to change the Lakers' fortunes.
Best Case: Lakers Continue to Improve and Win
It may not seem like it, but the Lakers have improved incrementally as the season has progressed.
Over their past 12 games, they are a respectable 5-7, with four of those wins coming against teams that were above .500 at the time and three versus current top-three playoff seeds.
They've been better on both sides of the ball over that span, and their porous defense actually hasn't been the league's worst.
Los Angeles' net rating over its last 12 tilts has climbed out of the NBA's bottom 10—a sign that the Lakers are becoming more competitive on a nightly basis.
Positive vibes from a winning patch could bolster the squad and lead to a surprising winning month.
Worst Case: A Long Losing Streak Is on the Horizon
Following their current road trip, the schedule stiffens quite a bit for the remainder of the month.
Sacramento and Denver are the only sub-.500 opponents on the docket, and both of those teams may get to the break-even mark by the time those matchups—both of which are on the road—come around.
An extended skid to end the calendar year would be a huge blow to morale, especially with another tough slate lined up for January.
That may be where the Lakers wind up if Scott's new plans don't work out. The team needs to find a way to stop the bleeding defensively while continuing to iron out the wrinkles on offense.
Of course, sustained losing also happens to be L.A.'s best path to rebuilding via a top-five selection in next year's draft. Maybe a long slide down the standings isn't the worst-case scenario after all.