Matt Barnes is still injured. While his stats do not really show why he would be that much of a difference maker, he is.
With Artest playing so badly (I really dont even need to pull up stats here) , we cant afford to play him much at all, since he is an empty suit especially on the offensive end. His shot is off, his defense is sporadic, and he seems to make a lot of really stupid plays.
Now, who does that leave us that can play SF? NOBODY. Lamar Odom can play sf, but that isnt his natural position, and the few times we have used him there, he hasnt played well. Kobe has also played SF, but with so many good wing players out there, and with Kobe's total help style defense, he simply cant guard them (besides the fact that he is too small). Devin Ebanks could play sf, but Phil hates playing rookies, and Ebanks doesnt look like a player that can be counted on for significant minutes anyway. Walton doesnt count because, skill wise, he is among the worst in the league. I know high school players that could take him 1v1.
Therefore, with Matt Barnes out, we have no sf besides the struggling Artest, and that has cost us in several games so far. We have gone mainly with a small lineup of either Blake-Fisher-Kobe-Gasol-Odom/Bynum, or Shannon-Fisher/Blake-Kobe-Gasol-Odom/Bynum. Again, Kobe plays out of position here, and since he moves to sf, we dont have any good defenders at our backcourt spots either. Aside from tonight against Cavs, Fisher has also been struggling shooting, Blake is seemingly useless out on the floor, and Brown makes stupid decisions a lot (like that foul with 30 secs left).
No matter how mediocre Barnes is, he is still by far better than any of our other options at SF, and his injury has cost us.
On the opposite note, however, I do think some changes need to be made. At least one of the Fisher, Blake, Artest, Walton group should be gone by the trade deadline, hopefully for a decent young point guard. I am not entirely sure who would take them, but Washington's Kirk Hinrich is similar to Blake, but a better defender and a good 3 ball shooter.
Anyway, while I dont think the Lakers will reach the Finals this year, IMO this has more to do with higher quality opposition. Basically, we just need to hope that Barnes' return can turn this team around.