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.
chris h says
one thing now as a result of this slide…
the big game between the Lakers and the Spurs might be one where the starters sit, because it’ll probably be meaningless by then.
too bad, could have been a big way to end the regular season.
MICHAEL ZARABI aka ZERB says
our last game is in sac … it will be a huge game … its the absolute last game the sacramento queens will play in Arco arena
Everything is fine. We are just too loaded. I know I’m the guy that always says the only thing that matters in the playoffs is health and talent… But I dont think Bynum will be the Lakers only good player when the playoffs start. I dont think Kobe will continue to look like an old man. I don’t think Gasol will be half interested in defense. I don’t think Fisher will be jacking up shots all over the court. And I have a feeling just like every other summer Phil Jackson coaches, the ball will appear more often in Bynum’s and Pau’s hands down in the paint when the Lakers really care about winning.
My God this is terrifying:
Agreed with Darius on all counts. This little stretch is similar to last year, but I’m far more confident this year because of the way we’ve played (mostly) since the break.
I’m more curious about the little things. Will Phil tighten the reins on Shannon as we get deeper into the playoffs? And I’m really looking for at least 1 or 2 players (out of Fish, Artest, Barnes, and Blake) to get hot from downtown. The effort (IMO, anyway) will be there when the playoffs start.
I think I may have bashed this team a little hard when I said they aren’t playing hard. It is true they have to be tired and their legs can be a little heavy. Normally the best team wins a 7 game series in the NBA. If the Lakers really are the best team, which I believe they are in the West, they will most definitely get to the finals. I just don’t think OKC has the expereince to beat us, and the Spurs defense and size is too weak. Dallas we just beat two straight games and killed them the last game and Denver while a good team, can not beat us in a 7 game series. The East however is a different story. Celtics, Bulls, and Heat are all much a bigger threat to beating the Lakers in a 7 game series than any West team, at least from my view. While the best team usually wins homecourt or not, homecourt could prove to be big like last year. Big four games, lets try to win them all.
Wow Bulls putting a hurt on the Celtics. Anyone who watched the game mind doing a quick analysis? Just peeking at the boxscore, it almost makes me wonder if the Celtics were really trying. Seems like only Allen played big minutes. I wonder if Doc didn’t want to wear down his guys, or if the Bulls got up big so he put the garbage players in.
Either way, the top of the East looks weaker than in previous years. I don’t think this Bulls team could have gotten out of the East any of the last 3 years. But this year, with the Heat still learning to run and the Celts on their last legs, Chicago might actually break through.
This is even scarier, Snoop:
Igor Avidon says
I’ll gladly take 3 losses in a row if that means we’ll go on to win 17 of 18 again. I can smell the playoffs..
man, the Bulls are packing heat right now. Honestly, I’m less bummed about losing the 1 seed in the west (the Spurs don’t scare me) than losing the battle with the Bulls. I honestly think that’s our finals matchup and HCA in the finals means a lot more than it does in the other rounds because of the format.
Oh, I think the top of the East is plenty tough.* The Bulls aren’t using smoke and mirrors.
*Arguably tougher than during the Shaq/Kobe threepeat years, when our heroes drew Philly, the Nets, and the Pacers …
lil' pau says
The regular season is really almost over. By my calculation, the Lakers magic number to earn the #2 seed is 2 games over either Dal or OKC. Regardless of how seriously one takes the Lakers’ slide, they’re not going to go 1-3 over the next 4.
Unfortunately, we still can’t shut it down because of Finals HCA consideration…. If only Bos or Mia were another game back, our boys might have been able to get some rest on Tues/Wed….
Lakers always get the sunday slot, so still 3 off days between games even if the team plays long minutes in Sac, which is kind of hard to imagine.
Defense and rebounding is effort.
Wide open shots is talent or lack of same right?
Brown, Blake, Fisher and Artest 4 for 27.
You really have to MAKE an effort to shoot that bad. These are really bad offensive players!
I believe I saw Ray Allen (one of the best spot up shooters of all time) shoot even worse in the Finals last year after his historic game two. That’s why defense is so important. It doesn’t tend to slump as often, especially in the playoffs. Also, height doesn’t shorten and Artest’s biceps won’t deflate. And there is that #24 guy.
I am not concerned yet, but we do need at least 2 out of the next 4 games to be W’s.
“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” – Colin Powell
I don’t know but the Bulls just don’t scare me. If the lake show can maintain the 3rd best overall record in the NBA I think they’re good. Both the spurs and bulls don’t have the frontcourt to deal with the Lakers over a 7 game series regardless of home court. Artest will lock up Deng and LA owns boozer,(Utah series) Noah has no post game, and the bulls have no one to slow Kobe. Spurs can only beat the Lakes if they shoot lights out from three over a 7 game series, which is one of the things the Lakers do best!! Can’t wait for the 2nd season to start.
Renato Afonso says
Seriously? Not one of you is worried? I am… This year, more than any other year in recent history, the thing that will get us through in the playoffs is our skill and size down low. Why aren’t Gasol and Bynum getting more low post touches? Why isn’t Kobe morphing his game just a bit, spreading the ball more while remaining a more of a spot up shooter (which he is really excellent at)?
Momentum is really important. If I knew that the Lakers were going to 17-4 after the all star break, I would have been pleased to that end. Knowing instead that it was really 17-1, then 0-3, I was less than pleased. Still, can I really be that upset all things considered? Time after time, the core of this group has gotten it done when it mattered. Someone mentioned a few threads ago that this Laker team likes to torture us and I’m inclined to agree…
Thanks for the write up. I have been busy at the office the past two weeks and everytime I check the schedules it shows that the lakers have a gane to play which makes me ponder if these guys do get tired. But when the losses came in I somehow realized that the “laziness” is a by product of fatigue. Imagine playing 7 games out of 11 days including the travel from one city to another when they play on the road and back home. I dont know about the stats on the lakers percentage on winning games when they have a two or three days rest compared to a game where they only had a days rest.
kwame a. says
Good points Renato, I would love to see Kobe come off the catch and shoot more too