During yesterday’s NBA Christmas games, the Los Angeles Lakers almost pulled off a stunning upset of the defending champions, the Miami Heat. Despite losing 101-95, the game was filled with excitement and highlight-caliber plays, making for one of the more enjoyable games out of rather disappointing showings. However, with the Lakers loss bringing them to three games under .500 (13-16), I’ve begun wondering if the Lakers should just shelve this season and hope for a high lottery pick. With some inspired play, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that Los Angeles makes it to the playoffs this season. However, it is impossible for the Lakers to make a deep playoff run. For those fans hoping to pull off an upset like the 2007 Golden State Warriors, where they defeated the Dallas Mavericks as the eight-seed, it’s not happening. The Lakers have no depth at the point guard position, minimal post and interior presence, and no clear go-to player in late-game situations, the reason behind last night’s collapse at the end of the game.
With the majority of players signed to one-year contracts and superstar Kobe Bryant not expected back for another month (where he could be returning to a team with a worse record), why not tank this season and focus on the future? If General Manager Mitch Kupchak could begin planning a rebuilding effort early, the Lakers might have a better plan for their off-season moves. With Bryant signing a monster 2-year, $48 million contract just a few short weeks ago, the Lakers need to protect their most valuable asset. If they continue to make a push for the playoffs, it’s entirely possible Kobe will be rushed back early and re-aggravate his ailing body in what turns out to be a complete failure of a season. If the Lakers decide to cool off their pursuit of a playoff berth, Kobe will feel no rush to get back to the court and can actually let his body rest and recover naturally in the hopes he’ll be 100% next season. The choice is still hard although I’m beginning to believe tanking might be in Los Angeles’ best interests. I’ll wait until mid-season to come up with a clear decision. For now, here are a few notes I have on the Lakers these past few games.
If you guys read my articles regularly, you’ll know I hated the arrival of Nick Young this past offseason. I cursed his passing ineptitude, his unwillingness to be a team player, and the abnormal amount of shots he takes a game that disrupts team chemistry. For the most part, I’ve been wrong. I can admit that. Young has been a big reason why I’ve watched the Laker games that I have. My father absolutely loves him and my dad has excellent basketball sense. Young is fun to watch, he brings a certain flair to the court and he’s proven to be a key part of the Lakers’ team chemistry. Of course, every game has its “Swaggy P moment”, a play that makes you scratch your head and wonder “why?!?”. Last night, like he has done all year, Young brought energy and scoring off the bench. He made a four-point play (his third in the last four game) on LeBron James and took over the game in the third quarter, scoring ten straight points for the Lakers while being guarded by the King. The Swagmaster has earned the love of Laker fans with his trademark ”swoop” after he scores a big bucket and you can hear the buzz around Staples when Young gets the ball and prepares to go one-on-one. Of course, from a strategic point of view, Young usually plays low-percentage basketball, but he certainly adds a level of intensity and creativity to every Laker game.
Xavier Henry and the resurgence of Pau Gasol
Xavier Henry has continued his breakout year in professional basketball. After being shuffled around a few teams since his arrival in the league, Henry has finally found a niche with the Lakers. His off-the-charts athleticism allows him to make plays normal players couldn’t make. He has the potential for big plays and has proven to have a number of moves in his arsenal. However, Henry also has a tendency to committ mistakes and go through extended periods of time playing shaky basketball. Despite playing well statistically last night, Henry made a slew of mistakes in the fourth quarter that I felt ruined Los Angeles’ momentum and cost them the game. Be it sloppy passes and stupid decisions, Henry had three turnovers in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter and allowed the Heat to get back into the game. He made up for some of it by making some big plays down the stretch, but ultimately, I felt like his mistakes cost the Purple and Gold the game. I still think he is a valuable part of this Los Angeles teams and with further development, Henry is someone the Lakers should seriously consider signing down the road.
The recent resurgence of Pau Gasol has gotten my spirits up, but I’m afraid it won’t last. Despite an increase in minutes, rebounds, points, and field goal percentage, we’re still seeing a slow Gasol lumber up and down the court and virtually no defense in the paint. Gasol is still an above-average passer and his mid-range jumper is still there, but his lack of athleticism will really hurt him as he grows older. I don’t expect to see Gasol in a Lakers uniform next season but I’m resigned to the fact that it’s for the best.
Rest of the Roster:
Wesley Johnson- The swingman from Syracuse has slowed down a little but it still playing at a career-best. He was tasked with guarding LeBron all night on Christmas and he did a passable job. His three-pointer has really taken off this year and his ability to make highlight-reel plays makes him a joy to watch.
Jordan Farmar- Farmar played his first game since tearing his hamstring six weeks ago and he did an OK job. He made a couple of poor decisions but overall I thought he distributed the ball nicely and penetrated the paint effectively. Farmar has probably been my favorite Laker this year and I’m hoping he gets signed next season as well.
Jordan Hill- After starting the season strong, Hill has shown some inconsistency in his overall play the last few games. Against the Heat, Hill was a beast on the offensive boards, but struggled with his offensive game. He missed on two crucial possessions in the fourt quarter that put the game further our of the Lakers’ reach.
Shawne Williams- Doesn’t do much. An above-average three-point shooter and decent rebounder but hasn’t made any real notable contribution to the Lakers this year.
Chris Kaman- I don’t know what beef he and coach Mike D’Antoni are involved in but I know that his absence off the court only hurts the Lakers. After a monster performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kaman has found himself relegated back to the bench and I can’t fathom why.
Jodie Meeks- Another of my favorite players. Meeks has one of the quickest triggers in the league and he’s an excellent shooter. His shooting abilities are beautiful to watch, with his high-arcing shots, and he has really stepped up his playmaking abilities around the rim and in the paint.