The Warts on the Lakers’ Three-Peat Bid

by Jeeves

As I’m sure everyone knows, the Lakers lost in Cleveland last night. The Lakers didn’t just lose any ol’ game, they lost to Cleveland. They lost to a team that was 2-38 over its last 40 games. They lost to a team who lost, arguably, their best player in the first 5 minutes of the game. Today, sports fans in Cleveland are a bit giddy, rightfully so, while their counterparts in LA are probably starting to hit the panic button on their Lakers’ bid to deliver Phil Jackson his 4th three-peat.

The fact of the matter is the Lakers are mired in a rough patch. They have lost three straight after getting man handled in Charlotte and Orlando. A fan of the team should be worried about those performances, but not for the obvious reasons. Yes, the Lakers lost three on the road in the middle of the season; I say big freakin’ deal!

Take the circumstances into account. They just ended a 7 games in 12 days road trip. They started the trip with wins at New Orleans, at Memphis and at Boston. Those are three huge wins, with the Hornets and Celtics representing two of the best home teams in the league. Then keep in mind it’s nearly the All-Star Break. I think its quite possible the Lakers lost some focus as the break approached, especially after notching those early three road wins. I mean, the Lakers didn’t even look like they showed up against Orlando. So the fact that they have lost three in a row, looking rather disinterested shouldn’t be shocking news. If they look this disinterested come playoff time, then yes, that’s a huge problem, but don’t overreact to this small stretch in the dog days of the NBA calendar.

What people should be worried about isn’t necessarily the fact the Lakers lost, but rather the way in which they lost. These last few games haven’t exactly revealed (as I think we’ve known it all along) but rather highlighted some of the flaws of this team. Let’s take a look at them in the context of the last three games.

I think the biggest issue regarding this current team and the one thing that could serve as a death blow come playoff time is that the Lakers are too willing to let Kobe jump shoot them out of games. It’s possible the team will take on a different mindset in the playoffs and this becomes moot, but right now if Kobe’s jump shot isn’t falling the Lakers are in trouble. Over the last three games, he’s shot 8-24, 8-20, 8-18; that all adds up to about 38%. It’s one thing if Kobe goes 6-24, as he did in the finals, while also taking 15 trips to the free throw line. The Lakers can survive those games. It’s games where he goes 8-24 without a single free throw attempt that hurts the team. In fact, over the last three games, Kobe has attempted 4 free throws, that’s it! Here’s the dirty little secret about Kobe. He’s not that good of a shooter; he’s shot only 45.5% over his career. (For a point of comparison, MJ, excluding his Wizards years, shot 50.5%). Kobe needs to get to the line to maximize his efficiency. His FTA per game have reached its lowest point since his 4th year in the league. It’s something to keep an eye on moving forward.

PG play is another weak area for the Lakers. Ramon Sessions, filling in for Mo Williams, had himself a night. He put up 32 points on just 16 shots; he went to the line 14 times. Unfortunately for LA, Derek Fisher has gotten old. He just can’t stay in front of point guards like he used to. When playing teams like Oklahoma City, they’ll have to rely on Phil to create an appropriate scheme to mask this flaw.

Los Angeles also struggles with extreme athleticism. OKC gave the Lakers a surprising run for their money in the playoffs due, in no small part, to their athleticism. Against the Bobcats, the other night, Gerald Wallace had his way with the Lakers. In the game before that, Dwight Howard, when he wasn’t turning the ball over, took complete control of the game. Again, this isn’t something the Lakers can miraculously fix. They can’t get younger and faster over night, but they can allow Phil to implement some defensive wrinkles to help.

Finally, the Lakers need to learn to rely on Pau Gasol more. He should be one of the focal points of the offense, especially when Kobe’s jump shots aren’t falling, but that’s just not the case. When you look at the Lakers’ team leaderboard of shots per 36 minutes (only looking at those with significant playing time), you have Kobe (big surprise) at number 1 with 20.7 attempts, Shannon Brown at 15.2 attempts, Pau at 13.2, Odom at 11.8, Bynum at 11.4, Barnes at 9.9 and Artest at 9.8. Maybe it’s just me, but I think Kobe is trying to shoulder too much of a load. Let’s look at it this way, Kobe takes nearly 21 shots per 36 minutes and makes 46%; Pau takes 13.2 shots per 36 minutes and makes 53%. It seems to me that the Lakers would benefit from the 53% guy shooting a bit more and the 46% guy shooting a little less. Over the last three games, Pau was only at 11.5 shots per 36 minutes while Kobe took 21.0 shots per 36. I’m not saying that is the only reason the Lakers lost, but their shot distribution is out of whack.

What needs to be taken out of this run isn’t that its time for panic mode in Los Angeles. This run needs to be seen for what it is. The Lakers let their effort wane a little, which allowed the team’s inherent flaws to be exposed. It’s up to Phil Jackson and the team’s leaders to try and mask those flaws in time for the playoffs.


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