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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.

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Comments

6 Comments

  1. Randy

    So why are you saying this now? Sure, the Lakers lost to last year’s NBA champions in Miami, however they have won 7 of their last 10 games including a 4-3 road record over the last seven road games (5-15 before that). Not great, but a big improvement from a month ago, and they trail the 8th playoff spot by 3 1/2 games, again a big improvement over a month ago. This improvement occurred because the team’s top player decided to be a playmaker instead of a scorer. Kobe’s actions have worked.

    The team WAS a mess, but it’s not now. And they do have one of their most potent weapons, Pau Gasol, out for about six weeks due to injury.

    The Lakers will make the playoffs although they probably won’t catch the Warriors!

    February 11th, 2013 5:35 pm

  2. overtime

    Randy…Thanks for reading this. I appreciate that you shared your thoughts. We disagree, right? I wrote that I think the Lakers are mess because … I think the Lakers are a mess. And, I’ve heard all the good things about Kobe taking over running the offense, etc. and watched the game Sunday to see that … they still don’t rotate well on defense (not even Kobe, who’s a great 1-on-1 defender). They lack athletic ability to defend, not that getting into folks defensively is necessarily a high priority for Mike D’Antoni-coached teams. They lost Gasol for 6 weeks to injury. And, the recent wins you mentioned came against Charlotte, Detroit, Minnesota and New Orleans … just like the Celtics playing well when Rondo went down, you have to look at the schedule to see who the wins came against. There’s a loss to a bad Phoenix team to offset a couple of good wins in a 7-7 stretch in their last 14 games. Ted

    February 11th, 2013 5:59 pm

  3. Randy

    Well, you are judging the Lakers based on the game against the Heat — which was nationally televised — who are 23-3 at home!! During the last 10 games the Lakers beat Oklahoma during their 7-3 record. As is the case throughout the NBA teams are different at home, and the Heat aren’t as great on the road.

    I do agree that the Lakers are screwed up, but you picked the wrong time to call them a mess. They are straightening it out … if slowly, and Gasol’s injury has set them back at a time in which he was clicking with the offense (without Howard).

    I think it is the management that screwed up. They should have never traded Lamar Odom two years ago, they should not have acquired Howard and same with Nash. And hiring D’Antoni was a big mistake; you have to be able to play both Gasol and Howard at the same time and D’Antoni’s run and gun offense doesn’t work with them. I also think Howard is a head case and he’s gonna be damaged goods if he doesn’t get his act together (another Randy Moss).

    February 11th, 2013 10:33 pm

  4. overtime

    Randy…No, I’m judging the Lakers on watching them play all season … knowing they’d played a little better and then checking in yesterday. The Heat aren’t great…not at all. They don’t rebound or defend like they did last year. (They went small…Joel Anthony doesn’t play as much…Haslem’s struggling…Bosh doesn’t board much and he has played center much of the year.)

    I get that you can think the Lakers aren’t as messed now as they were at some other point but my point is…while acknowledging that your opinion is valid and makes great sense…I just watched Sunday and saw all the same problems that, I’ll acknowledge, not many media folks typically point out when they’re just lamenting Howard’s attitude, Kobe’s stuff or Nash’s age. Does that make sense? They don’t rotate on defense and they don’t switch screens well … and that’s killer … and that’s why Howard is really struggling even more than his injuries would dictate.

    Totally agree with you on hiring D’Antoni … on Odom … on management. And, I paid attention to the Lakers all year because I figured that they’d get things going despite all the mess. I think Howard’s still the best center in the NBA by miles and he’s an amazing athlete when healthy and when he finally signs with … somebody … we’ll eventually forget these years when he’s acted like the lead in a “Little Rascals” movie.

    Good stuff. Thanks for writing. Ted

    February 11th, 2013 11:02 pm

  5. Randy

    Less of a mess than the current Warriors, and now only 5 1/2 games behind them! Only two Western Division teams are hotter than the Lakers have been over the last 10 games — Denver and San Antonio. You have to play the teams on your scheduled no matter who they are and you have to beat the weaker teams.

    February 12th, 2013 11:08 pm

  6. overtime

    Randy…It’s worth noting the expectations for the Lakers are higher so they strike me as a mess based on the talent they do have. It’s a mess, for sure, when they can’t run D’Antoni’s offense specifically because they lack athletic ability and perimeter shooting…yet they also can’t run pick and roll with Nash because Howard doesn’t do it well…that kind of stuff is just unbelievable to me. They could, actually, be a mess and make the playoffs if the Warriors and another team or two really hit the skids. TED

    February 13th, 2013 12:27 am

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