Last night featured a display of both all that could go right with the Lakers, and also all that's been going wrong. The Lakers played solid defense, shared the ball effectively to a fault, and garnered contributions from their role players. Yet, simultaneously, the Lakers displayed egregious lapses, turned the ball over far too often, and still played like a team that did not truly know itself. Welcome to your 2013 Los Angeles Lakers, people.
- 59% from the field
- 52% from deep
- 32 assists on 40 shots
- 16 Fast break points
- 46 points in the paint
Work worthy of the League's fourth-best offense on a good night. Accompanying this: 22 turnovers, seven missed free throws, a distinct lack of Pau Gasol on the floor - issues emblematic of a team sitting well below .500. I asked yesterday for the Lakers to muddy the picture, to reverse some of the clarity being formulated over the previous six-game losing streak, and they have done so: how can a team go on to solidly defeat an opponent, seemingly without breaking a sweat, after a six-game losing streak?
Make no mistake: this game was not the product of grit and determination from the Lakers; there were no Garnett-esque displays of passion or truly dominant performances. If anything, these Lakers simply looked like what they were initially intended to be: a supremely talented team, one that may not fit perfectly together, but could certainly take care of business against woefully inferior squads.
Kobe Bryant played an understated game, superior but not superlative. Dwight displayed an active presence on offense and defense, though he turned over the ball as if it were scalding hot. Nash did his best to organize the offense; however at times he displayed his age. Earl Clark filled in wonderfully for an injured Pau Gasol; Antawn Jamison played like the former All-Star he is. In theory, everything went as well as we could have hoped for this Lakers squad in January. Hell, even Pau Gasol's concussion isn't necessarily that bad - obviously, nobody would like to be concussed, but his tired legs could use some rest, and he is making progress.
Yet, something doesn't feel right. This does not feel like a turning point, nor a display of untapped potential. These Lakers have always been here. The sheer offensive talent, the occasional defensive ability which is no better personified than in Kobe Bryant, the turnovers - all of it epitomizes this Lakers squad. Did they display any marked improvement between games? No, the Lakers squad which blew out the Cleveland Cavaliers last night was the same one that lost its previous six, just like the Lakers squad which scored 37 in the first quarter turned the ball over on six straight possessions later in the very same game.
So, what did the Lakers prove last night? Simply that they can defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers whilst missing their fourth option--no more, no less. They still display a significant degree of unfamiliarity, as was exemplified through the Lakers' veritable multitude of turnovers. Dwight Howard is an exceptional player, but flawed and not at full strength. Kobe Bryant is Kobe Bryant. Steve Nash is one of the best point guards in the League, even while displaying his age. Yet, this team feels as if it is greatly lacking. The whole is not equivalent to the sum of its parts.
Dwight Howard's comments relating to the Los Angeles Clippers come to mind here; his reverence for their chemistry and cohesion directly acknowledges what's missing from this Lakers squad. Blame whatever you want: injuries, age, familiarity - the fact remains that this squad is quickly running out of time, yet does not even appear to care; it is a team going through the motions.
Bright spots are around: Earl Clark's apparent evolution into a formidable role player serves as a rare stroke of good luck for the Lakers this season. Darius Morris continues to grow as a scorer. Dwight returned from injury sooner than expected. Unfortunately, it's looking unlikely that this all will be sufficient. A true contender not only comes out to win, they come out to dominate; these Lakers failed to do so. No D'Antoni-esque offense was witnessed, with the pace not being exceptional. The defense was solid, but not at lock-down levels. Ultimately, superior talent and some hot shooting led the Lakers to victory; the two combining in such a manner is rarely the case.
Perhaps, if Dwight sticks around for another season, this squad may have a title in their future. Clark's emergence, combined with Jordan Hill's hopeful full recovery, might render the prospect of trading Pau much more palatable. At this point, perhaps the best thing for this squad would be for Gasol to come back and play well enough to ameliorate his trade value; with some youth and more D'Antoni-system players to compliment our big three, maybe this team can go somewhere under Mike. Until then, naught is there to be done, except endure.