By TED SILLANPAA
@tedsillanpaa on Twitter
The Lakers are a team of dead men walking.
They hung with the Heat for most of Sunday’s nationally-televised game, but LeBron James then reminded us of the huge gap between the greatest player in the world … Kobe Bryant at age 34 … and the ailing and recalcitrant Dwight Howard who might now never become the game-changing force we thought he’d be. LeBron did more than Kobe and Steve Nash, combined, playing on the ball. And, boy, does the Lakers’ decision to trade for Nash look foolish now that Kobe’s running the offense and Nash has become a nearly-40, undersized shooting guard.
Body language doesn’t typically interest me because, if a guy hits a 3, then gets a steal and a dunk … his body language changes in a hurry. Watching the Lakers Sunday made it really hard for me to keep arguing that a team with bad body language isn’t really a bad team. I couldn’t imagine anything that Kobe could do to spark one of those turnarounds that vault the Lakers to a playoff run and leave us saying, “Remember back in February when we thought the Lakers were dead? Now they’re in the Western Conference finals!”
That’s not happening because, simply, the Lakers can’t defend. They can’t defend at all. Kobe’s a shutdown defender 1-on-1, but he’s not and never has been good at the rotation defense that great NBA teams rely on. It’s his difficulty switching screens and rotating to help others that first cause problems between Bryant and Howard.
Howard was, and will someday be again, the guy who protects the rim and covers for weak perimeter defense. Now? The Lakers don’t defend and have an alarming lack of athleticism. Add that the rotations to help come hard for them and poor Howard is forced to do way too much to fix mistakes made on the perimeter.
The only noteworthy, perhaps extraordinary, thing about the Lakers is Kobe’s will to reboot his game in order to try to will a bad team to victory.
LeBron just abused Ron Art…Metta World Peace. Art…World Peace was one as good a wing defender as there was in the game. LeBron looked like the former college player who showed up at open gym to play with a bunch of 20′somethings who last played on the high school JV team. He got the ball … he moved World Peace around like he had him on a string … and got easier and easier shots.
The Lakers aren’t going to catch the Warriors, or anybody else, in the playoff chase. They don’t even seem to be enjoying the game. And, given how things have gone south on them, why would they? (If they can do more than think they’re gaining traction with wins over the Bobcats, Pistons, etc. and beat good teams consistently … the game will seem a lot more fun to them. Honest.)
The play that epitomized the toxic nature of this Lakers’ mix came when Howard got the ball in the post, spun to the lane … and had LeBron drop down, rip the ball free and wind up dunking on the other end. LeBron can be better than Kobe on the perimeter and around the hoop. He can even be better than the agin Nash on the ball. He’s always, always, the best defender in the game. But, man, LeBron can’t be a dominant post presence who has his way with Dwight Howard, not if the Lakers think they have any reason not to blow things up and start over next year.