Kobe Bryant's Lakers Are Playing With Fire: Seven Issues That Spell Big Trouble

Rich FernandesCorrespondent IDecember 2, 2010

Kobe Bryant's Lakers Are Playing With Fire: Seven Issues That Spell Big Trouble

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    DENVER - NOVEMBER 11:  Kobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers look on from the bench against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on November 11, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Lakers 118-112.  NOTE TO USER: User
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Lakers have just lost four straight games for the first time since April 2007 and this was supposed to be the most talented and deep Lakers team ever—but something is terribly wrong in Lakers Land because they seem to be falling apart.

    Losing four straight games is certainly not the end of the world for the Lakers who, before this losing streak, were dominating with incredible ease. 

    The Lakers' high-flying games resemble the Harlem Globetrotters' style of play, when they run their opponents like cattle from one end of the court to the other. A nd as reflected by the almost always high scores, it was a marathon run.

    The Lakers' defense has been lacking considerably. The concept of scoring more points than the enemy while letting them also score without impunity makes no sense.  What happened to the defensive strategies of boxing out, taking the charge and sticking with your man?

    How long can these starting elite players, including Kobe, Pau, Artest and Odom, keep up this ridiculously fast-paced style, game in and game out over the remainder of the NBA's grueling schedule?

    If the last five games are any indication, then not very long at all. 

    Here are seven major issues that could spell infinite trouble in Lakers’ Land.

The Lakers Play Offense Like The Harlem Globetrotters

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    LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 21:  Lamar Odom #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots against the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center on November 21, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The Lakers run a marathon game in and game out.  It’s no secret that they like to run up the score, but the problem is that running up the score requires more lengths back and forth on the court and doing this game after game has got to get exausting. 

    And exaustion for the Lakers has become an issue.

    The Evidence

    The Lakers have scored over 100 points in 13 of 19 games this season and nine of these games have been over 110.  That is not including two games in which they scored 99 and another when they scored 98.

    The Lakers who are vulnerable to exhaustion are the few that are not being rotated well with the bench and are putting up too many minutes.  They will stop running marathons and the Lakers' offensive productions will dwindle. This allows opponents to bridge the offensive gap and beat them at their own game. 

    In the last five games, the Lakers have scored under 100 points, which includes scores of 98, 96, 92, 96 and 99 points, and the last four were lethargic losses. 

The Lakers Play Defense Like The Harlem Globetrotters

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    DENVER - NOVEMBER 11:  Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets lays up a shot between Ron Artest #15 and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers at the Pepsi Center on November 11, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Lakers 118-112.  NOTE TO USER: U
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The Lakers are a gas guzzler on the defensive end of the court.  It’s almost as if defense is a non-issue for them, which is surprising considering they are coached by the zen master, Phil Jackson.  

    It's no secret that, even when their opponents lose, they still run up the score on the Lakers.

    The Evidence

    The most glaring defensive stat is that their opponents have scored more than 100 points in 10 of 19 games played. Seven additional games represent opponent scores of at least 90 points. Only twice have the Lakers kept their opponents to less than 90 points and one of those scores was 89.

Pau Gasol is Getting Killed

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers is guarded by Roy Hibbert #55 and  T.J. Ford #5 of the Indiana Pacers during the second quarter at Staples Center on November 28, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User e
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    The Lakers are not a young team and at 30 years of age, Pau Gasol is the youngest starter.  This Spaniard represents the Lakers' most valuable asset and one of the three best players in the NBA. So as unbelievably talented as this Spaniard is, his MVP chances are disappearing as a result of being driven like a horse. 

    The Evidence

    Pau Gasol is averaging a ridiculous 39 minutes per game and he played 45 minutes twice in three days, including a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Talk about an unfortunate waste of effort when Gasol could have taken a well deserved day off instead.

    The Lakers are a deep club, but they are thin at the center position with Andrew Bynum out and an apparently new hamstring injury to Theo Ratlif (we just hope that it isn’t serious).

    We know Gasol missed 17 games last season due to a hamstring injury.  Gasol also revealed that he felt a twinge in his hamstring after playing the Grizzlies game and he had this to say: 

    “My concern is that it doesn’t get better and it gets worse,” Gasol said. “Then, we’ll really have a problem.”

    So knowing this, we are also bombarded with the information that Gasol played 38 minutes in another loss to the Houston Rockets.

    Confounded anybody?!

Kobe-Centric Kobe

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots over Brandon Rush #25 of the Indiana Pacers during the fourth quarter at Staples Center on November 28, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. The Pacers defeated the Lakers 95-92.
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Kobe Bryant is not getting younger either and he is coming off of major knee surgery.  So with Shannon Brown more than capable of stepping up and relieving Kobe at the SG spot, it’s just not happening. 

    In fact, we all know that it’s Kobe and his ego that will not relinquish those minutes to Brown, which begs the question:  What if Kobe gets injured?  You have to admit it is a possibility that could easily be avoided.

    The Evidence 

    The Lakers are such a talented team that, to someone who watches them from outside of L.A., it’s hard to imagine that Kobe can just take over a game and turn his extremely capable teammates into mere bystanders. 

    The game against the Denver Nuggets is the best example because it was a very sorry show of Lakers’ disconnection.  In that game, Kobe Bryant was a spectacle to watch as he missed shot after shot and kept taking more.  He was colder than an ice-cube, yet the importance of Bryant being the youngest player to break the 26,000-point barrier seemed more important than getting his talented teammates involved in trying to win the game and extending the unbeaten streak.

    Evidently, resting himself during a long schedule to ensure that he is available for the playoffs is also out of the question.  He is unnecessarily averaging 33 minutes per game and that number is steadily rising.

    Kobe is leading the NBA with over 400 shot attempts on the deepest team in the league. Does that make any sense? 

    Here is an excerpt from espn.go.com:

    "The Los Angeles Lakers might have to learn that a little less Kobe Bryant may go a long way this season.

    On Tuesday, Bryant scored 29 points but it took him 25 shots to get there in a 98-96 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. During the Lakers current three-game losing streak, Bryant has attempted at least 20 shots in each game and has averaged 26.3 FGA per game.

    This season, the Lakers are 2-3 when Bryant attempts at least 25 shots in a game, compared to 11-2 when he attempts fewer than 25 shots.

    Look even deeper and you will see that all five of the Lakers losses have come when Bryant has at least 20 shots. When Bryant attempts fewer than 20 shots, the Lakers are 7-0."

Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and The Lakers' Big Men Issue

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 17:  Andrew Bynum #17 and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers react in the second half while taking on the Boston Celtics in Game Seven of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 17, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE
    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    Andrew Bynum may be one of the most talented bigs in the league, but he is also made of glass.  He was supposed to be back in the lineup by now, but his absence has been extended by three weeks.

    The Lakers Big Man "What if" Scenario

    Gasol's hamstring twinge is a big concern. What if he needs time to rest?  You know he does. 

    Can Andrew Bynum put up Gasol-like minutes without exposing himself to injury?  You know he can't.

    And what about Theo Ratliff's precarious situation?

    The Lakers’ center spot has indeed become their Achilles heel.  To say the Lakers are vulnerable is an understatement.

What's Going On With Ron Artest?

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    LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 9: Ron Artest #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers battles for a loose ball with Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center on November 9, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 99-94.  NOTE TO USER: User expr
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Ron Artest is an extremely capable defender on a Lakers team that doesn't care if its opponents run up the score to over 100 points, as long as they don't win.  Artest's defensive talents are being seriously wasted in Lakers Land, but that's not the problem with Artest.

    In fact, the problem with Artest remains ambiguous. He has voluntarily taken himself out of a game and just sat on the bench and we don't really know why.

    But there may be an even bigger problem for this Lakers small forward.  He played only 17 minutes against Houston before heading for the locker room with five minutes remaining in the third quarter and he did not return for the fourth quarter at all.

    There is evidence that Artest was limping but we still do not know all the facts.


Legendary Good Coach Making Unlegendary Bad Decisions

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    LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 21:   Head coach Phil Jackson of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles during the game with the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center on November 21, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 117-89. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ack
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    What's going on with zen master Phil Jackson?  It does not seem like he is in his right mind. 

    The Evidence

    1.  On several occasions Jackson has complained about Ron Artest unnecessarily.  Given Artest's fragile personality, it's hard to understand what Jackson is trying to accomplish here.

    2.  Jackson is fully aware of the hamstring injury Pau Gasol had last year, yet he is not resting him at all.  Could Jackson actually be surprised that Gasol complained about feelng a twinge in his hamstring after playing 45 minutes against Memphis?

    3.  Evidently Pau's complaint fell on deaf ears because he ended up playing 38 minutes in another losing cause to Houston.

    4.  After the Houston game, Jackson had this to say about Gasol's hamstring:  "We’re concerned about it. We’re concerned about the way he played tonight. He didn’t play with any activity."

    It's only the beginning of the season.  If the Lakers lose a few games, who really cares? 

    Everyone will care if Pau Gasol has a nagging hamstring injury.  So why does Jackson keep giving him workhorse minutes?

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