HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If and when this season officially goes over the basketball cliff, the Los Angeles Lakers will have their pick of scapegoats.
From the entire Buss family to David Stern, Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Mike D’Antoni, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Metta World Peace, the Hollywood elite and just about anyone else who has set foot in Staples Center this season, you will not be safe if things come completely undone and the Lakers miss the playoffs.
The real culprit, however, might be the numbers. They don’t lie and the Lakers are stalling at a time when they simply cannot afford to, given the obstacle course they have left to navigate.
As of this morning, they need to go 24-18 over the next 42 games just to break even this season, which we all know probably won’t be good enough to get them into the playoffs. That means they’ll need to play lights out over that same stretch to get back into the playoff picture.
While we’re not saying it’s impossible, it seems highly improbable for a team that’s managed a mighty 17-23 record heading into tonight’s game against Chicago (9:30 ET, TNT). Then again, the way things are going, impossible might need to be the rallying cry the Lakers use the rest of the way. Because no one thought this result was possible when Nash and Howard joined the party over the summer.
Fast forward to the third Monday of this New Year and Howard and the Lakers are still trying to get out of their own way, experiencing the sort of growing pains few people expected them to still be dealing with this late in the season.
Give the Lakers this much, they are giving it the old equal-opportunity try in assessing their issues. Everything is being scrutinized. Even Kobe has admitted his struggles and failings. Their defense has been atrocious, validating the fears of many (the HT crew included) that D’Antoni’s penchant for focusing so much on the offense might obscure the fact that this crew’s biggest deficiencies are on the other side.
Despite despicable defensive numbers, they all seemed to be more concerned about offense, as Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register reports:
“The ball sticks,” D’Antoni lamented Sunday.
Said Nash: “Sometimes we don’t do what we talk about and we break away. And maybe that’s because we need more time, but to me, mentally you’ve got to stick with the script. Right now I think we’re defecting from the script too many times.”
Bryant’s thought process? Very different.
He said he was “very, very happy” about Pau Gasol getting consistent post-ups Sunday: “We got a lot of easy things from him down there, so we’ll start seeing that more often.” As for his poor shooting, Bryant said he was tired and needed to get more massages, ice baths and rest. He has been asked to defend the best perimeter player on the opposing team in recent games and last game requested more set plays for him to shoot.
“This team needs me at both ends of the floor,” adding a vague reference to “unless they’re going to do something roster-wise.”
The time for vague references are over. The Lakers have a definitive bottom line they are working. They have 42 games to work with and the legacy of this team, this group, and, specifically D’Antoni, Kobe, Nash, Howard and Gasol, will be defined in that time and space.
Time is running out!