As the Lakers continue to be decimated by injuries, finding hope for this year is difficult

Greg Smith-USA TODAY Sports

As the Lakers' season is further derailed by injuries, one wonders whether they have enough left in the tank to sustain their playoff run after dropping yet another end to a back-to-back.

Whatever this Lakers team could have been, it's evidently clear that we will never have the opportunity to see it this season. Every Laker who is in the rotation and is not named Jodie Meeks is either out with injury, has suffered an injury, or is currently trying to play through one, and by the the manner in which this season has gone, we can probably expect Meeks to keel over and twist an ankle or something in the next week or so. The latest bombshells to drop in the injuries to both Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant are essentially par for the course at this juncture. Whatever attempt this squad has had to build chemistry has mostly been derailed by the simple fact that the primary parts of the rotation are rarely on the floor with one another and when they are, a fair portion of them are essentially the walking wounded. Dwight Howard started the year off a shadow of his former effectiveness, but as he steadily returned to form, the rest of the team has fallen down around him.

As a result, it's hard to have any expectations of this team moving forward as far as this season is concerned. Clearly, we can consider this a lost season that isn't going to lead anywhere since no team does so with their entire starting backcourt hobbled from injury. All this taken into account, however, it's also becoming increasingly evident that this team will have to make changes if they want to stay competitive, even if it is ultimately just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titantic. Pau Gasol seems the most likely sacrificial lamb to this concept, but ultimately, all that happens now and next season is the twilight gasp of the Kobe era before the team begins anew in 2014 and whatever the team does now shouldn't compromise what happens then.

Beast

  • Dwight Howard -- Dwight's now pulled down at least fifteen rebounds in eleven of the fourteen games in March and he hasn't been held below double digit rebounds since mid-February. It's a testament to how good he was that we still say that he isn't all the way back, but he's certainly on an upward trajectory. His 28.0 defensive rebound rate, a rather low mark when compared to his recent seasons, ranks eighth in the league, a much more familiar place for Dwight than where he was earlier in the year. He's also become much more in tune with the overall flow of the Lakers' offense, as he's him and not Pau who is the one throwing deft interior passes nowadays. As mentioned above, however, Dwight is a lone bright spot among the remainder of the Lakers' turmoil, as a more or less dominant 4x5 game against Minnesota was soon forgotten as his help defender usually permitted Larry Sanders to frequently score behind his back after Dwight stepped into the lane. If there's any consolation from this year, it's that Dwight has essentially quashed any talk of how he wasn't deserving of a max deal and it may be the lone fruit to come from an otherwise disastrous year.
  • Antawn Jamison -- That wrist apparently isn't hampering Jamison that much, as he recovered well enough to deliver two fairly solid performances. Interestingly, as much as Jamison has eschewed the in-between game for much of this year, he seems to be dabbling in jumpers from the baseline somewhat more often lately and it's a shot that definitely hasn't paid as much dividends as his efforts behind the arc and at the rim. Otherwise, Jamison's good games are like clockwork at this point: he'll hit a few threes, get a lot of layups on cuts to the rim, and pull down a few offensive boards through solid positioning. His shot chart is a beautiful display of how role players maximize their efficiency and a career high TS% of 56.8 cements that.
  • Pau Gasol -- Pau's sort of figured things out as far as his offense goes; as Drew pointed out, he's driving the ball from the high post using the threat of his midrange jumper to get good post position and shockingly, his beautiful, baseline baby hook seems to be making a bit of a comeback. What is disconcerting, however, is his propensity for turnovers, as a lot of it is just Pau making bad passes, a rather unbecoming development. There should never be a case in which Pau grievously misses an entry pass to Kobe because he didn't put enough air under it -- and we know how this pass is supposed to be done perfectly since Nash never fails to execute it. All this noted, whatever Pau has recovered on offense, it hasn't been the same for his defense, as he's horribly ineffectual at the five as a rim protector and gets beat too often at the four via simple dribble drives to the rim. Too often, moreover, is he simply in the wrong position, as he fails consistently to rotate to cover for Dwight whenever the latter needs to account the myriad breakdowns on the perimeter.
  • Steve Nash -- Perhaps that back injury was bothering him, which is unfortunate since Nash's turnovers derailed what was two solid games from him. And they mostly weren't, "Nash trying and failing to execute a ridiculous pass that would have ended in a layup or a dunk" passes, but just simple stuff around the perimeter that wasn't executed well. Pau's return hasn't changed the dynamics of the offense to the point in which this should be a problem. Regardless, Nash did have good games on offense otherwise, as he was doing his part to keep the offense flowing, a rather stark contrast to the other ballhandlers on the team.
  • Honorable mention to Kobe Bryant and this is a bit grudging. Kobe's ankle has definitely limited his burst and ability to finish, but that's not an invitation to devolve into the worst excesses of iso Kobe in which he stops the ball, cranks up a difficult long two, and then complains to the referee while his man streaks up the floor for a layup or a three. And the turnovers from him are especially egregious since most of the time, they aren't errors made when trying to set up one of his teammates, but just being unsuccessful with whatever crazy offensive sequence he was engaging in. As has been said multiple times this year, Kobe handling the ball and taking a good portion of the offensive possessions isn't a bad thing; it's his approach when doing so that is worthy of criticism and this is jarring since it appeared that Kobe had made strides to improve his overall efficiency.
Burden
  • Jodie Meeks -- Meeks bizarrely is having more success as a cutter around the rim than he is in his designated role as a three-point sniper, as he performed rather poorly in place of Metta World Peace in the starting lineup. This has always been the case for Meeks, but his effectiveness is tied to his ability to nail shots. There's not enough peripheral stuff he does to make up for it and while the cutting is a nice touch onto his game, it doesn't make up for an inability to space the floor. A 55.3 TS% isn't bad for a regular player, but for a specialist like Meeks, it doesn't cut it.
  • Steve Blake -- Blake's downward spiral is mostly caused by his decreasing accuracy on his shots and perhaps it's time for him to take a step back in terms of his overall aggressiveness. He's still a solid backup who doesn't turn the ball over much and helps with the offensive flow, but he can start to ease the stepback jumpers and the like out of his arsenal. This definitely doesn't mean that he shouldn't be probing the defense looking for opportunities as he's done to great effect since his return from injury. There's being less aggressive and there's being too passive, the latter paradigm he's fallen into too much in the past. At the same time, however, he can't be doing too much out of what his talents allow him to do.
  • Earl Clark -- As versus Meeks above, Clark is turning into a guy who is all about the peripheral stuff: defense, rebounding, and a smart pass here or there. In other words, it's an idealized role player, but it would be nice if he hit a shot every now and then. Too often he disappears on the offensive end where he should be searching out cuts to the rim or acting as a release valve for his midrange shots. This noted, Clark's probably the only guy on the team other than Dwight now that Metta is out with injury who gives decent effort and gets good results on defense and that has a lot of value for this squad.
This is part of the "Beast or Burden" series covering recent trends from the Lakers' games. Players who performed well relative to expectations are placed in the "Beast" column and those who did less so are indicated in the "Burden" section. It is intended to be a means of reviewing the team's progress and how individual players are contributing week to week. Read previous columns in this series here.

Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.
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