USA TODAY Sports
The Lakers staged a major comeback in Charlotte to salvage their road trip, but their poor play since Pau Gasol needs to be reversed. The team needs to come up with a better way to respond to adversity.
We can bemoan the Lakers' injuries and how difficult it has been for them to stay consistent in the wake of every other major player on the team getting injured at some point this season, but the worst thing they can do is let their effort wane. For the previous two games, the Lakers brought forth adequate effort for a quarter-and-a-half and if their opponent wasn't Charlotte, they probably wouldn't have been able to pull off the comeback. Combined with the lackluster effort is remarkable passivity from the Lakers' stars that puts far too much impetus on the Lakers' role players to carry the team, a position they are naturally not accustomed to. We have talked in previous weeks about the role players stepping up and carrying the team, but ultimately, they are what they are. This team doesn't have a Sixth Man of the Year candidate as the fourth option that brings another level of dynamism when the starters are flat.
This makes it remarkable that both Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash looked absolutely lifeless until the Lakers kicked off their comeback -- which tellingly started off with an Earl Clark and-one rather than anything they were doing to stir momentum -- and it shows how much the team is dependent on them to be effective to get the rest of the team going in Pau Gasol's absence. Perhaps we can start blaming the long road trip and a back-to-back, but at one point, Kobe was -24 and Nash was -25. That simply can't happen. We have been splitting hairs over whether which one should be the scorer or the distributor, but when it really comes down to it, it's not a huge concern so long as they're each fulfilling one of those roles. Have each do neither creates utter stagnation and as a result, it is not surprising to see the Lakers' offense flail fruitlessly against Charlotte's not-so-robust defense for most of the game. As we have said frequently, the two still have to figure out a suitable dynamic, but we can certainly treat this as an emphatically wrong way to go about things.
- Kobe Bryant -- We'll repeat this for the rest of the year so long as it remains a problem: Kobe has to be an efficient scorer or a solid playmaker. Being neither doesn't work. We had three of these options in play the past two games, however, as he was the sole source of consistent offense in the Boston game, nonexistent for the first two-and-a-half quarters against Charlotte, and then an assist man and finisher down the stretch with Charlotte. The underlying problem is that there's a difference between playmaking and passivity, creating shots for others and disengaging from what is happening on the court. It's too early to say that the Kobe point guard thing was just a fad, but it illustrates the kind of involvement he needs to have in the offense if he's not going to be a scorer.
- Earl Clark -- As much as Clark has played well, his limitations are increasingly being put on display, as he doesn't offer a great interior defender at center and is having difficulty creating his own offense. More often than not, centers were also able to bully him under the rim and get to rebounds, a sign of which weight class Clark is operating in. Still, he was definitely leaving his heart out there on the floor and his errors were certainly not caused by a lack of effort. It was simply a lot to expect him to to act as the main interior and help defender on a team that needs a dominant one to cover for all the leaky holes on the perimeter. Clark continues to produce in a timely manner when the team needs him, however, as he had twelve points in the fourth quarter to help keep the Lakers afloat and then key their comeback effort. If he works on getting a post game in the summer, as he frequently looks lost whenever he gets within six feet of the basket and can't utilize his midrange jumper, then he really will become an interesting contributor on that end.
- Jodie Meeks -- With every other wing on the team deciding to either mail it in for part of the game or suck completely, Meeks was a big spark in the Charlotte game and was one of the few players not to look utterly flummoxed against Boston. It's a pretty simple formula for Meeks: make shots, play relatively competent defense, and minimize his wayward drives at the rim. Do that and he has a better case to be on the floor than every other wing on the roster besides Kobe. And it should be noted that Meeks going to the rim isn't intrinsically a bad thing when: (1) he does it off the pick-and-roll, as he generally makes good reads in that situation; (2) the endgame is a pull-up jumper, at which he is perfectly serviceable at; or (3) he gets the ball on a cut, as he has just enough athleticism to finish with a dunk if left relatively uncontested. Unfortunately, these conditions appear to be disregarded most of the time and Meeks really needs to add a floater to his game in the offseason.
- Steve Nash -- Nash simply looked...wrong for a good portion of the Charlotte game before pulling things together and making some big shots down the stretch, as he had an uncharacteristic flood of turnovers and generally feckless play. As many have noted, the time for Nash to be the laid-back, get everyone involved guy is over. His mindset coming off every screen should be to look for his own shot since frankly, most of the guys receiving his passes are hitting bricks nowadays. A lot of offense in the league is being driven by point guards getting their own off the pick-and-roll and it would be nice for the Lakers to take advantage of this. On another note, Nash is increasingly becoming the chief enabler of Kobe's mid-post action because he is by far the team's best entry passer, something we already knew, but he is especially good at throwing Kobe a pass in semi-transition that he goes after like a wide receiver when claiming early post position. One wishes Kobe would go back to Nash in that action a lot more than he currently does.
- Honorable mention to Antawn Jamison, for whom we should just plaster in his description from previous weeks and be done with it. Unorthodox shots at the rim, spot-up threes, and some mediocre, if not awful at times defense. He did have a surprising trio of blocks against Charlotte and was moving slightly better in that contest, although his help defense was mostly at its usual standard. Altogether, there's not much more to say regarding Jamison other than to be thankful that Clark emerged to take a good chunk of the minutes that would be allotted to Jamison considering the injury situation, as the team would really be in dire straits otherwise.
- Metta World Peace -- Metta hasn't had a good offensive game in about a month now and this is becoming increasingly worrisome. A few weeks ago, it appeared that Metta had firmly pulled himself out of amnesty territory and had solidified a spot on the team. Whoops. He shot 38.5% in the month of January and has a painful 26.1% to his credit in the past four games. This is almost occurring as a reverse of last season, when he started with terrible play and then gradually got better as the year went on and his nerve issue healed and we can't even depend on him as a reliable wing stopper in the interim. Compounding the problem is that MWP doesn't do a lot of the peripheral stuff on offense: he's usually a black hole when he gets the ball, has been horribly ineffective as a spot-up shooter, and even his post-ups aren't working as well as they have in the past. He was worse than useless in the Charlotte game as we were treated to Byron Mulilns simply lofting jumpers over his outstretched arm and nonexistent vertical. MWP more or less has to turn this around very quickly or the first item of discussion in the offseason will be how we will be using Pau as a trade chip to fill the opening at the three caused by Metta's amnesty.
- Dwight Howard -- It should be noted that Dwight has all the extenuating circumstances in the world at this point and whatever you think about him, you can't deny that his physical ailments are severely impacting his play. In fact, it should be a minor miracle that he was able to pull a 12/11/3 game out of his rear despite being barely able to move in pick-and-roll defense down the stretch. He still operates well as a roll man whenever he decides to move towards the rim decisively, as he generally makes good decision with the ball in motion, but he's even more limited than usual as a post offense because of his diminished agility. Those limitations, however, are really hurting the team since so many of his deep post possessions turn into dead trips whenever someone easily strips the ball and goes the other way with ease. If anything, this season has been a long exercise in proving Mike D'Antoni correct in that Howard is better used as a roll man than a straight-up post player, something the data told us in full before the year began.
- Steve Blake -- Blake is still running the offense well aside from a spree of turnovers in the Boston game, but he was part of the general trend of passivity against Charlotte until the comeback started in the third quarter. That noted, there is only so much you can ask him to do with the tools he has, and while we have been impressed by Blake in recent weeks since he returned from injury, we should couch our expectations in light of his previous play and what he can realistically bring on the court. In this light, the bad shooting games from Blake are mostly forgivable since he doesn't take a lot of shots, isn't expected to produce a lot in that regard, and they are mostly good looks. One certainly feels less apprehension about Blake taking the court for Nash than we did when Chris Duhon or Darius Morris were asked to run the show.