Does the Lack of Competition Hurt the Lakers?

Paul PeszkoSenior Writer IDecember 4, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 01:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers controls a rebound in front of James Posey #41 and Hilton Armstrong #12 of the New Orleans Hornets at Staples Center on December 1, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
Harry How/Getty Images

It’s no secret that 17 of the Lakers' first 21 games are at the Staples Center.  It’s also no secret that the Lakers are on a seven-game winning streak and blowing out their opponents by double digits.

But what might not be apparent is the fact that only one of the last seven opponents, Oklahoma City, has a winning record.  

In fact only four of the Lakers' 14 wins have come against teams with winning records: Atlanta, Houston, Oklahoma City, and Phoenix.  

So far, the Lakers have only played two division leaders—Dallas and Denver—and lost both games.

At this point the Lakers can look forward to two things when their home stand ends next Friday, and neither one is very good: seven out of nine games on the road and five out of the next nine against teams with winning records.

Then at the end of January, the Lakers go on a grueling eight-game road trip.

So, has starting off the season with such a huge block of home games, the overwhelming majority against teams with losing records, hurt or helped the Lakers?

Let’s take a look at the positives.

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The Lakers started the season without Pau Gasol for the first 11 games.  Andrew Bynum also missed a couple of those games.  So, the scheduling helped the Lakers to an 8-3 record prior to Gasol’s return.

The schedule, especially over the last seven games against weaker opponents, has allowed the Lakers to rest their starters for most of the final quarters.  

Starters’ minutes have been decreasing compared to last season.  Saving their legs for those long road trips down the line and a playoff run will prove particularly important.

The schedule has enabled Ron Artest to adjust to the play of his new teammates and vice versa.  It has also allowed Phil Jackson to experiment with different combinations of his eight-man rotation with Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar, and Shannon Brown coming off the bench.

Now for the negatives.

The lack of competing with top teams and having a heavy home schedule to start the season could lull the Lakers into a false sense of security.

They may go into games against better competition on the road or at home feeling over-confident.  They really haven’t been tested since Pau Gasol has returned.

I don’t think this will hurt them as much offensively as it could defensively.  Trying to defend against some of the better teams with highly competitive players may find the Lakers playing catchup.

One thing is certain, however: the starters will not have the luxury of sitting out most of the final quarters, as the schedule gets more competitive.

If anything, the easier schedule to start the season has shown that Phil Jackson cannot depend on his bench beyond the current eight-man rotation.

When he has pulled all his starters and put in an entire unit of reserves, they have allowed huge 25-point leads to dwindle down to seven or eight points in the closing minutes.  He has even been forced to put a couple starters back in some games to ensure the win.

The reserves just cannot get stops on defense and commit far too many turnovers on offense.  Except for Farmar and Brown, none of the other reserves want to work the ball into the post and instead settle for low-percentage jumpers.

In a way, that could be a huge positive.  The easier schedule that the Lakers are going through has given the staff a good chance to evaluate all of the reserves in action.

I have said it before and I will say it again: A couple of these guys will not be with the Lakers much past the holidays and certainly not beyond the NBA All-Star Game.

What’s in Mitch Kupchak’s stocking this Christmas?

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