It appears the bad just keeps on getting worse for these Los Angeles Lakers, their losses piling up at a rate only matched by their injury woes. As the apparent slow march towards the lottery proceeds, every game rendering the Lakers' odds of making the Playoffs more minute, any bright spark will be welcome. It was known from the onset that this Lakers squad would face problems regarding their age and chemistry, their system and fit; however I doubt anyone could foresee that these problems would manifest themselves quite so vehemently.
Normally, a victory against a squad like tonight's Cleveland Cavaliers would be more-or-less meaningless; even if the Lakers weren't to win, very few would take such a loss as indicative of greater issues within the team framework. That would be the case if these Lakers were something as much as slightly resembling a good team. Instead, even a team possessing the second-worst record in the NBA appears intimidating to a broken and battered Lakers squad missing the majority of its frontcourt rotation.
Nonetheless, as Mike D'Antoni has affirmed, the Lakers aren't mathematically out of the race yet. The Lakers crashed rather catastrophically over their latest (admittedly tough) stretch; it appears evident to all now that their championship hopes presently rank on par with those of a Boston or a Chicago, at best. However, it does not follow from 'championship or bust' that the Lakers should simply lay down and die; a push remains in order. With time running out for the Lakers to salvage the pitiful remains of this season so adequately as to just make the Playoffs, this push needs to start tonight: the Cavaliers at home is arguably the easiest ordeal the Lakers will face all month. If momentum is to be built, it must be built now.
On paper, the Lakers shouldn't have much to fear from the Cavaliers. Yes, Kyrie Irving is a formidable scorer with range, an exceptionally tough cover for our point guard rotation; however, beyond him, the Cavaliers' offense is rather lacking. Though they possess a superior record to the Lakers over the last ten games, the fact that their point-differential is fourth-worst in the League cannot be overlooked, particularly compared to the Lakers' perplexingly-impressive +1.0 differential. The Cavaliers' poor point-differential is easily explicable when one notes their aforementioned imbalanced offense, in conjunction with the loss of their formidable veteran defensive anchor Anderson Varejao to injury.
Of course, things very rarely go as they should for this purple and gold squad, and a loss isn't exactly out of the cards. Irving could take them to school, much like Durant did last game. The Cavs, possessing impressive threats from deep such as C.J. Miles and Omri Casspi, could heat up from outside. The Lakers could just suck. Any and all of the above, amongst many more potential eventualities, could occur - perhaps even several simultaneously. Nobody knows what's going to happen next with this squad.
The Cavaliers appear to be a mediocre rebounding team and atrocious at near-all else; the Lakers should hence focus on the fundamentals of boxing out and rebounding. This will be one of many games in which Jordan Hill's energetic presence will be sorely missed. With the likely continued absence of Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, Antawn Jamison will have to continue to produce as a consistent second scoring option (who would have expected a Lakers scribe to be typing that sentence, last offseason?), preferably accompanied by an uptick in offensive aggressiveness on the part of Steve Nash and some hot shooting from the likes of Jodie Meeks.
A victory would necessitate this being accompanied by what one wishes would be the beginning of a process of marked defensive improvement: for the Lakers to deserve to even make the Playoffs, they must ameliorate their defensive efficiency to at least League-norm levels. As has been mentioned elsewhere, in the absence of defensive anchor Dwight Howard, the onus is on undisputed team leader Kobe Bryant to step up on defense - one hopes he would deliver a performance antithetical to the well-documented lapses he has routinely displayed on that end of the floor; a statement game worthy of his former virtuoso status as a perimeter defender would be most welcome.
Much has been said of this Lakers squad, much has been examined and debated. Nothing is certain; very little seems to make sense. Yet, a narrative appears to be forming, a concrete storyline manifesting out of the midst of confusion and chaos. It is a narrative of potential wasted, of poor decisions--of failure. It is not a narrative we wish to experience. So, tonight it is only right to hope that the Lakers do not provide clarity, that they do not solidify this path; rather they need to once again muddy the script, once again give us something to be confused about.
Hollywood, people. Ain't it beautiful?