Bereft of chemistry and consistency, the Lakers have to start producing more on offense

USA TODAY Sports

Although the Lakers put up a respectable defensive effort against the Spurs in Game 1, their lackluster offensive execution, partially attributable to a lack of chemistry, and inability to hit shots doomed any ability for them to claim the upset.

It should be repeated for emphasis: the Laker starting lineup that took the floor in Game 1 had not played one minute with each other the entire season. Relying on Kobe Bryant for so long as a primary ballhandler and playmaker this year, the Lakers have had a rough transition on the offensive end since his injury and it has been further aggravated by Steve Nash's injury and lack of recent playing time. With him unable to create for others for the most part, the burden falls on Pau Gasol to be the team's main playmaker, something the Spurs did a good job of deterring. These largely aren't problems that can be solved by an application of effort, as the Lakers have done on the defensive end. It is easy for your defensive to be active when Dwight Howard is your anchor on the interior and everyone is doing a good job of fighting through screens, closing out on shooters, and paying attention to their help responsibilities. This is not to say that there weren't quite a few errors along the way, but that the boost in effort is more easily translated into better results on defense.

This hasn't been the case on offense, as the Lakers' poor chemistry was on show with eighteen turnovers that the Spurs routinely punished the Lakers for. It is true that the Lakers simply shot poorly from outside and a reversal in this category would likely be sufficient to give them a fighting chance in this series. This noted, the Lakers are still trying to incorporate guys into the offense and what basically amounts to a new approach as the team tries to get the ball into the post as a bigger item of emphasis. A lot of the time, you could have been forgiven if you thought the Lakers were basically running the Orlando four-out, one-in offense that Dwight Howard was used to. As pointed out above, this certainly doesn't mean that the Lakers can't come back in this series, but chemistry issues are once again creating obstacles for this task.

Beast

  • Dwight Howard -- The only Laker to make more than half his field goal attempts, Dwight was reasonably effective whenever he got clean looks in the post and deep position, although getting the latter proved to be an issue throughout the game. San Antonio is trying to deny him position and prevent lob passes at any possible opportunity, forcing him to throw the ball out of the post to perimeter guys who were usually left open deliberately since the Spurs don't respect the Lakers' outside shooting. There's not a lot of ways to avert this other than the Lakers simply getting better at nailing their shots, although they could try things like cross screens to get him cleaner post looks and position closer to the rim. It's a testament to how much of his old form Dwight has regained that he was effective despite the aforementioned obstacles, but the Lakers are going to have to do a better job of opening the floor up for him.
  • Steve Blake -- Blake's being asked to create an awful lot given how limited Nash is and for the most part, he's doing a fair job of it. His inability to finish well around the rim really stymies him in this regard though, as you can only subsist off stepback jumpers for so long, but that he creates any penetration whatsoever off picks as he probes is hugely important to a rather impotent Lakers offense. On top of all this, Blake took primary duty on Tony Parker and did good work checking him throughout the contest. Four steals and two blocks are things you expect from guards with a lot more athleticism and a far more impressive defensive reputation, so Blake's performance in this regard was commendable. It's tough to expect him to pull double duty on both ends with such responsibilities, but the Lakers' prospects dim considerably if he can't.
  • Pau Gasol -- Yes, Pau needs to be in the post a lot more, especially against the likes of Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair, but it's also incumbent on him to get into position to do so. Where he's getting his touches hasn't changed considerably since the past two contests. Even with the Spurs flooding the lane more often, the opportunities exist for him to take the ball from the elbow into post position or even straight at the rim. This noted, he still has to hit more of the midrange shots that he largely bricked yesterday. The Spurs are going to concede that shot every time on the Lakers' pet plays such as the 4-5 pick-and-roll or Horns, so Pau has to make the defense respect him from those spots. No doubt they're inefficient for the most part and the Spurs know this quite well, but given how anemic the Lakers offense is as a whole, Pau converting from 10-15 feet is something he has to do on a consistent basis.
  • Honorable mention to Steve Nash, who had a tough reintroduction to the Lakers starting lineup as he missed a lot of open shots on his way to a so-so line. Even more than Pau, Nash has to make shots regularly from the spots the Spurs are conceding to him since he's by far the Lakers' best perimeter shooter. The hope upon his return was that his shooting would be sufficient to open the inside game for Pau and Dwight and as we saw yesterday, that hasn't materialized. There's really not much more to say than that; the Lakers aren't expecting Nash to contribute that much on defense, although he was more or less fine, or from a playmaking perspective since Pau and Blake have taken up most of those responsibilities, but Nash does have to make shots for the Lakers to make this a series.
Burden
  • Jodie Meeks -- Meeks shot 32.0% and 28.6% from three in March and April respectively, a bad portent for the Lakers since he's going to be part of the backcourt rotation by default at this juncture. If this continues, however, the Lakers are going to have to think long and hard about limiting his minutes to give Darius Morris a role since at least Morris will play solid defense while being an offensive zero. It's simply unacceptable for someone like Meeks who isn't asked to handle the ball -- his attempts to do so unasked notwithstanding -- to accrue two turnovers and not be a presence from behind the arc. As has been the case for practically the entire year, he doesn't offer value in other areas to justify his minutes if he doesn't make shots.
  • Antawn Jamison -- Jamison really, really needs to break out this series for the Lakers to have a chance. His shooting is very up and down -- home/road splits of his 3P%: 38.3% (home), 33.6% (away), for instance -- but it benefits the Lakers tremendously if he can nail threes and be a factor on offense. The Lakers are simply devoid of offensive options capable of breaking out for double-digit games and Jamison filling that role in what looks like a very low scoring series could potentially be a key factor. This is especially the case since San Antonio, probably the smartest offensive team in the league, is going to pick on his defense at every conceivable opportunity even without the prototypical personnel one can take advantage of him with such as David Lee and Carl Landry in Golden State. He continually gets lost on pick-and-roll defense and the screener more often than not is getting an open shot when Jamison is involved.
  • Earl Clark -- Clark might as well have not been playing for all the impact he made. This was a team he cemented his spot in the rotation against back in February and it increasingly appears that he might be losing it if he can't give the Lakers anything in terms of production. Clark is nowhere near a good enough defensive player for his presence on the floor to be justified if he goes nearly twelve minutes with one rebound, no shot attempts, and no other statistics whatsoever. It's not a matter of Clark being a significant factor in the offense since his skillset isn't suited for that, but he has to be involved in some way and as of now, that isn't the case.
  • (Dis)honorable mention to Metta World Peace, who played decent defense but failed to produce on the offensive end. As with half the team, Metta gets an injury excuse, but this is a team he simply needs to produce against. Without Kobe dominating the ball and most of the Lakers' perimeter players hobbled, Metta is probably the only guy on the team who can create off the dribble by abusing smaller guys with his strength. And without Kobe in the lineup, he's done precisely that in the past, but this hasn't been the case so far. As is the case with most of these entries, the Lakers need someone, anyone, to step up and provide above average production and along with Jamison, Metta probably has one of the stronger cases to be one of those guys.
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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