This was clearly a pretty important game for the Lakers. They played with a lot of intensity and urgency. Unfortunately many of the ills that befell them thus far this season reared their head again—turnovers, missed foul shots and poor late game execution.
Last night was another game where the Lakers couldn’t hit the big shot when they needed to down the stretch. Danny Green stepped up and hit a big three to put the Spurs up by 2. The best the Lakers could do on the other end was a desperation Gasol three. Granted the Spurs did a great job locking down the passing lanes and not really giving Gasol an option, but the execution was poor. The desperation three was something you’d expect from a young team, not the most veteran team in the league.
Offensively the Lakers lack of a perimeter game allowed the Spurs to double Howard in the paint. The Spurs pressure forced Howard into six turnovers and several other wasted possessions where the Lakers threw up less than an ideal shot. You have to wonder how healthy Howard is at this point. He’s clearly not playing up to his standard defensively and doesn’t have the explosiveness yet. Until the Lakers prove they can consistently hit a jump shot teams are going to continue to double-team Howard, forcing him to do a lot of work inside and probably not the best for his recovery from surgery. If he has to expend so much energy on the offensive end how will his defense not suffer?
The Lakers lack of bench was again a factor in the sheer number of minutes the top unit played. The foursome of Gasol, Howard, Bryant and World Peace averaged 38 minutes between them with Howard playing 41 minutes. Contrast this to the Spurs starting five who averaged just 31 minutes. Whether it’s Bernie Bickerstaff or Mike Brown there’s simply no confidence in the Lakers bench players. With Mike D’Antoni and his high-octane offense coming in its questionable how five players over thirty-two years old will hold up over the long run.
Bickerstaff only went nine deep in the rotation with three of those bench players (Chris Duhon, Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks) going a combined -22. Contrast this with the Spurs Bench that went a combined +23. Although these numbers don’t necessarily take into account the natural ebb and flow of the game the Spurs there was a +45 bench swing in favor of the Spurs. Pop was able to play is starters limited minutes and get quality from the bench.
There’s really no relief in sight for the top unit. Antawn Jamison is clearly diminished as a player and at thirty-six likely has nothing left in the tank. There are Steve Blake trade rumors but who are they really going to get for Steve Blake at this point? On his podcast Bill Simmons floated the idea of a package deal that would bring Josh Smith to LA. Smith would clearly fit in the D’Antoni system, but what would motivate the Hawks to make that trade? They’d get some value for Smith when it’s questionable whether they can re-sign them. Gasol’s contract would also give them cap flexibility in the near future as well as an elite center to combine with Al Horford. It’s a compelling idea if they can pull it off.
We’ll sit back and see what happens when D’Antoni takes over. He’ll have his work cut out for him.