The start of the 2012-13 NBA season has already developed a myriad of plots and sub-plots. From the inner city, interdivisional rivalry/battle between the resurging New York Knicks and the relocated Nets in Brooklyn to the departure of James Harden from Oklahoma to Houston to the surprising start of the Memphis Grizzles, no storyline has been more compelling-yet-also-perplexing than the abysmal play of the Los Angeles Lakers.
It’s been a circus of a season for Los Angeles. Since six-time All-Star Dwight Howard was traded to L.A. in the offseason, and the Lakers acquired former two-time MVP Steve Nash as their point guard, many thought that 34-year-old Kobe Bryant was destined to be fitted for a sixth NBA championship ring at the end of the season. But when the Lakers walked into Madison Square Garden last Thursday, they were the not-so proud owners of a 9-13 record, humbly exited the Garden with another embarrassing mark in the loss column.
Despite the big name acquisitions, many criticized that the Lakers super team, actually had gotten older in age, and it would be a miracle if Bryant and Co. could last an entire season without injuries. When the Lakers made the Andrew Bynum-for-Howard four-team trade, the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year was still reeling from offseason back surgery. Howard has often appeared sluggish this season and lacks the same explosive lift as his days in Orlando. Then, the 38-year-old Nash went down to a fractured fibula a week into the season. And once head coach Mike D’Antoni took over for the fired Mike Brown, All-Star Pau Gasol‘s minutes were reduced and he was later forced to sit out due to knee tendinitis. Although injuries have hampered the early season expectations for L.A., the Lakers’ depleted roster is partially to blame for the struggles the franchise has faced this season.
The Lakers have plenty of issues to be concerned about right now– their lack of offensive execution and their lack of transition defense foremost among them. D’Antoni has often been considered an offensive genius whose teams are poor defensively, but right now the Lakers don’t really look good on either end of the court. On Thursday, they allowed the Knicks to put up 41 points in the first quarter. Orlando dropped 40 on them in the fourth quarter, in a loss. And OKC dropped 41 on the in the second quarter, for another L. As those who are healthy continue to try to adjust to D’Antoni’s seven-seconds-or-less system, their basic defensive fundamentals have diminished. A championship can’t be won if a team doesn’t play D, of course. A team can’t make the playoffs if they can’t defend. And that’s the major issue the Lakers find themselves in after letting their problem pile up.
But as bad as everything has gone for the 11-14 Lakers, they’re winning again and it took a return to Kobe’s hometown of Philadelphia for L.A. to being the process of righting the ship. Although, it’s just a two-game win streak –the first of D’Antoni’s tenure with the team after they beat the Wizards on Friday– it’s still a turnaround from their horrendous start. On Sunday, Bryant scored 34 points, Howard had 17 points and 11 boards, and Metta World Peace finished with 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, as ‘the Show’ won consecutive games for the first time in nearly a month with a 111-98 victory over the Sixers.
“It’s guys playing with confidence and guys trusting each other,” Bryant explained to the media post-game. “We played well, communicated well, kept attacking and good things happened. I know the questions have been coming because we hadn’t been winning, but our time will come.”
Many hope that time is sooner than later. It’s hard to bet against a five-time NBA champion, let alone the Black Mamba himself, but with D’Antoni at the helm, this aging Lakers’ roster doesn’t match the veteran coach’s seven-seconds-or-less offense.
Talent rules in this league and the Lakers, when healthy, have perhaps the most dominant-yet-versatile starting five in the NBA. Gasol is expected to return to the lineup as soon as Tuesday against Charlotte and Nash isn’t too far behind, as he could be back the following game against Golden State. Still, despite their return, there is no doubt it’s going to take more than Nash’s basketball IQ and skills to fix things in Hollywood. At 11-14, including a dismal 4-8-road record, who do you think can rewrite this script for the greater good?