Originally written April 08, 2013 on Purple and Gold Blog:
One positive thing going for the Lakers should they make it to the playoffs is no team will worry about the Lakers beating them in a 7-game series. But that doesn't necessarily give the Lakers an automatic edge over their opponent considering that this team is still having a tough time comprehending the importance of winning every game in order to even plan on what they'll need to do in the playoffs. Then again, you can't blame just the players or even just the coaching staff as to why seeing a full, concertive effort to play a 48-minute game is like playing Russian roulette. As advertised, the Lakers are simply a team not ready for the playoffs. For players, their individual sense of urgency is on different levels. For Mike D'Antoni, his desire to succeed and get his team to the playoffs is preventing him from making some convenient decisions, such as making sure Kobe Bryant have his legs fresh enough for the playoffs. He wants Kobe, and he's been asking Bryant every game, to sit his normal time on the bench, but Kobe refuses. D'Antoni obliges because he knows the team needs him on the floor, especially with Steve Nash and Metta World Peace unavailable for them. When D'Antoni mentioned that he doesn't believe that the team has any fatigue issues during his interview after Sunday's game, he isn't saying that he doesn't see his team getting tired or playing tired. Instead, he's looking at the consistency in effort and focus in which his players tend to flip flop this season. Against the Clippers on Sunday, the Lakers were solid to start the game on both ends of the floor. Offensively, movement from the ball and off the ball were up to par. Guys were cutting, moving and demanding the ball from the post. Defensively, their rotations were sharp, and shots were being challenged plenty. But all of that disappeared to end the 1st and 2nd quarter and totally went awry in the 2nd half. That is not because the team is fatigued. The only player who should be tired is Kobe. And he was on Sunday. Since the Sacramento game on March 30, Bryant has rested a total of 7 minutes over the last 4 games. Sure, he was somewhat a defensive liability against the Clippers because of all the accrued minutes on the floor. But him being on the bench resting will get the Lakers in more trouble considering that, with Nash out, there's no one else on the perimeter that will keep the defense from collapsing in on Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol. There's just no more way around it. Ever since the keys to the offense were given to Bryant, the team has gotten used to it. Reverting to anything different will cause the Lakers to re-invent themselves again on offense. That was the risk the Lakers took when they assigned Kobe to be their main facilitator. However, that risk would be the same today if they had kept the ball in Nash's hands. On the flip side, D'Antoni should have had more options on offense in case Plan A or Plan B doesn't work on every team. Or better yet, have a definitive game plan on defense. Can you imagine how much more wins this team would have today if D'Antoni had put any real effort into any defensive scheme for the Lakers to hang their defensive identity on? Then again, we're talking about a coach that probably will have a difficult time locating the word in the dictionary. So any expectations there is ultimately a lost cause. But the biggest difference for the Lakers and any other team relevant to their playoff hopes is the Laker starters never had enough time to gel together. This has been the boulder on the shoulder for this team all season due to injuries. However, the Lakers, as we've seen numerous times in this season, can beat tough teams when they decide to play the game to their potential even under the circumstance that they still lack proper team chemistry. The Lakers have no choice now but to hone everything that got them their 40 wins in these last 5 games if they want to make it to the playoffs. Keyword there is "want".
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