No other team has been as dominant offensively as the Lakers.
For instance, Los Angeles leads the league in scoring at 110.6 ppg. The Lakers rank second in the NBA in three-point accuracy (.424), free-throw percentage (.823), assists per game (23.81) and rebounds per game (45.75).
Defensively, the team has been steadily improving from an early lackadaisical start. The Lakers currently rank first in point differential at 9.93 and third in opponents' field-goal percentage at .431.
While from many key statistical numbers the Lakers look like a team that should win 65 to 70 games this season, much of the success is due to an easy schedule. Reaching those win totals and winning another championship may not happen unless the team can improve in some key areas.
Bench Is Improved but Not Without Flaws
By all accounts, the bench of the Los Angeles Lakers is much improved from last year. Called the “Renegades” by head coach Phil Jackson, the reserve unit will only become more dominant once Andrew Bynum returns and Lamar Odom becomes another super-sub.
This season, the bench players have helped turn around many games for the Lakers by providing hustle plays and hitting key shots.
However, when the reserves go cold from the field, that shooting touch seems to be contagious and the whole team seems to struggle. It was this poor shooting by the bench that in fact squandered a 19-point lead against the Jazz on Friday night.
While Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown have generally shot well from outside of the arc, they need to do a better job of getting closer shots at the basket when their three-pointers are not falling.
Key Starters Are Struggling
Ron Artest and Derek Fisher are two valuable veteran players for the Lakers who bring toughness and leadership to the team.
However, they are also among the players struggling with their shooting.
Fisher, for instance, is only making 37 percent of his field goals inside of the three-point arc.
Artest is averaging a career low of 8.5 ppg while shooting only 39 percent. While he made 40 percent of his three-pointers in Houston two seasons ago, one would think that he could shoot close to that mark with all of the wide-open looks he gets in the Lakers’ triangle offense.
The struggles that Fisher and Artest are experiencing put additional pressure on Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. When their cold shooting is combined with a similar effort from the bench, the Los Angeles Lakers are a team that can be beaten by average teams like the Indiana Pacers last night.
The Lakers Could Use Some Inside Help
There is no doubt that the Lakers are getting frustrated with Bynum’s rehabilitation from his knee surgery.
Jackson commented recently on his frustration with Bynum when he said, "We're playing Pau too many minutes [and we] don't have a backup for either he or Lamar right now, so that's a real problem. We put all our eggs in the basket of Andrew coming back and we hoped he'd be back by this time, by Nov. 15, by Thanksgiving time, by [our last] road trip, etc. We don't know when Andrew is coming back."
This trend of pushing out return dates (which is nothing new for Lakers fans given Bynum’s usual slow recoveries from injuries) is definitely a cause for concern.
While Odom has generally played some of his best career basketball, Gasol has been outplayed in recent games by true centers like Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert.
Theo Ratliff’s injury definitely hurts the Lakers, but having Bynum in the middle will make things much more difficult for opposing centers while allowing Gasol to get more rest.
In addition, Bynum could make the most difference in rebounding and protecting the basket. Gasol is averaging 1.9 blocks per game, but he is not the interior intimidating presence that Dwight Howard is. In fact, most of his blocks are made flat-footed while extending his long arms up against opponents.
No one is intimidated by Gasol in the middle, as evidenced by players like Darren Collison, Derrick Rose and Deron Williams driving to the basket fearlessly. Yet, Bynum is more of a physical player who has an impact in this area when he is on the floor.
Team’s Lack of Energy
Finally, the Los Angeles Lakers must figure out how to motivate themselves for all 82 games this season. It has been evident that the team has lacked energy from the beginning of recent games, giving an impression that a win is only a matter of chugging through the 48 minutes.
That is never a winning formula, especially for the Lakers. The players need to understand something that the Miami Heat have come to realize this season—every team is out to get them.
When the NBA publishes the schedule for the season, each team circles the dates for the games against the Lakers.
This only makes sense, as the Lakers are not only the two-time defending champions, but the team is also seen as the New York Yankees of basketball as the NBA’s most winning team over the past 30 years.
When those type of teams come to play, opponents are going to give their best effort every time. If the Lakers don’t play good defense, opposing players are bound to have career nights.
The Lakers need to come out of the gate each night ready to play tough defense and make hustle plays, focused on putting teams away early.
The Lakers might be the best offensive team in the NBA, but championships (like the last two years) are won on defense. It’s time that the team wakes up from its coma and remembers how to dominate on that end.
Then, let the true domination begin.