The playoffs are a little over a week away and the Lakers are in the midst of a losing streak while playing pretty poorly. Their execution is spotty, their legs look weary, and they’re pretty much locked into their current seed for the Western playoffs. (As for the race for homecourt in the East, the Lakers are still ahead of the Celtics and Heat but will not catch the Bulls.)
All of this should sound familiar because this was the exact scenario last season. A year ago, right around this time, the Lakers had lost 3 of 4 games and did not look prepared to defend their title. (They ended up going 2-2 over their last 4 games. Over their last 8 games of the 2010 season the Lakers went 3-5. That said, they ended up winnng the title. If the Lakers go 2-2 in their last 4 games, they’ll be 3-5 in their last 8 games this season as well. Hmm.)
And while I had confidence that the team would play well in the playoffs, I’d be lying if I said I did not have concerns about their ability to do so.
And that’s where we (sort of) are at today.
In the big picture, the Lakers have won 17 of their last 21 games. Their post all-star record is one of the better ones in the past 20 years. Small picture, however, this team has lost 3 games in a row and have looked worse in each subsequent contest.
Overall, I’m confident that this team can play it’s best basketball when the 2nd season starts in a little more than a week. I’m confident not only because of last year, but because of last month and, even more recently, last week. This team is a poised, veteran group that has been through the battles that condition, season, and create a championship mindset. At this point, why should I not have an overall feeling of confidence?
That doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns. Offensively, this team has lost it’s way. Their offensive efficiency marks during this losing streak are damning: 93.2 (vs. Denver), 90.0 (vs. Utah), and 95.2 (vs. Golden State). They’ve stopped cutting hard and screening hard, they’ve fallen in love with dribbling rather than moving the ball, when they do pass they turn it over with alarming frequency, and they’ve gone cold as a shooting team from the outside making only 13 of their last 57(!) three point shots. To completely dismiss this as a lull or some sort of product of caring less wouldn’t be accurate. There are things to work on and ways to get better. They need to get to it as time to do so is running out.
All that said, I’m no where near worrying about this team. The ledge to jump off isn’t even in my view. The Lakers simply need to regroup by getting in the film room, working on what they see in those sessions on the practice court, and get some rest. Five games in seven nights isn’t something to just gloss over and with another game tomorrow then another Sunday making that a 7 game slate in 11 days, I’m not sure we won’t see more off-kilter play that frustrates us all. STill, no worries from me however. Not when the playoffs will eliminate these schedule issues and afford the team to install team specific game plans that narrow the focus and allow a great coaching staff to pinpoint weaknesses to attack.
In the end, I just want the playoffs to get here with a healthy group of players. The rest of the equation – focus, energy, sense of the moment – will all take care of themselves. Remember, this is a championship team not some group that’s never been here before. As much as this recent stretch of games can lead to thoughts of “peaking to early” or “fatal flaws”, I caution against going down that path. A title may not be guaranteed, but not playing at the level this group has played at recently is close to it.