It wasn’t even imaginable that the words “better offense” could come out of someone’s mouth when discussing the impact of the Los Angeles Lakers losing All-Star center Dwight Howard.
Well, in words of Kevin Harlan, “buckle up,” because it’s about to occur.
Holding Off Houston Despite Harden’s Showcase
After Thursday’s win over the Houston Rockets, the Lakers look like a team that may become a top six or seven offense in the league when Kobe Bryant returns to action. The popular headline for this game was undoubtedly Steve Blake‘s game-winning 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of Howard, who was forced to switch on Blake after Kevin McHale‘s defense had a breakdown in communication. With 1.3 seconds left, Blake drained the go-ahead bucket to put Los Angeles up 99-98 and left the Toyota Center in shock and awe.
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) November 8, 2013
James Harden didn’t go down without a fight, scoring 35 points after doing what he’s best at and getting 16 free throw attempts.
Yet, none of those are the storylines that fans will remember from this one.
Howard fell victim to the “Hack-a-Dwight” tactic by Mike D’Antoni in the fourth quarter, forcing him to go to the free-throw line six times in the final 2:17. Howard missed five of the six from the charity stripe.
The free agency decision to leave Hollywood for the younger and more attractive Rockets’ roster was definitely a negative hit on the Lakers, don’t let any fan try to deny it. With that being said, closing games is going to be much easier for D’Antoni’s group throughout 2013-14 than it was with the self-proclaimed “Superman.”
It’s no secret that Howard’s career free throw percentage is mildly pathetic (but still not as atrocious as DeAndre Jordan‘s 42.6 percent). In his 10-year career, Howard has shot 57.6 percent from the line, while sitting right at 50 percent for this season. You’re about to find out why the Lakers will win more games than they managed to last year (45).
Los Angeles’ core of big men that play a significant role in the offense now features the leader Pau Gasol, veteran Chris Kaman and the young Jordan Hill. Dare to take a gander at how well they shoot the most uncontested shot in basketball?
Pau Gasol: 75.1 career free throw percentage (82.6 percent in 2013-14, 2.7-3.2 per game)
Chris Kaman: 74.3 career free throw percentage (75.0 percent in 2013-14, 0.2-0.3 per game)
Jordan Hill: 65.8 career free throw percentage (35.7 percent in 2013-14, 0.8-1.3 per game)
Overall, this team now has a frontcourt that is capable of staying in close games deep into the fourth quarter without worrying about being intentionally grabbed at halfcourt. Kaman and Hill haven’t been in involved in many offensive plays at the rim in order to get to the line often, but they have demonstrated throughout their careers that they can be more productive than Howard in that sense.
You could sense the frustration on Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash‘s face last season as one or both had the team in position to win a game down the stretch and Howard walking up to the line just meant a waste an offensive trip. The size of one’s hands when holding the ball shouldn’t be this dramatic on the ability to hit free throws, especially after having 10 years and counting to make adjustments. TEN YEARS. If Houston doesn’t solve the problem OR make the decision to bench Howard late in the fourth quarters, the Lakers may just close in on the Rockets’ win total for this season (with a healthy Bryant).
Then … Torched by Anthony Davis
On the following night, Friday, Nov. 8, the Lakers completed their three-game road trip in New Orleans as they took a loss to one promising team, the Pelicans. Los Angeles trailed 69-66 heading into the fourth quarter before sophomore Anthony Davis maximized the lead and carried New Orleans to a 96-85 win at home.
Davis scored 32 points, collected 12 rebounds and compiled six blocks in a career-high scoring night and his best individual game since joining the league in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Switching focus to the Lakers and their inability to carry over anything from the previous night, D’Antoni’s group only managed to knock down six 3-pointers in the loss, compared to the 16 they drilled from beyond the arc against Houston.
The standout player of the night for Los Angeles was none other than Chris Kaman, who has finally been selected to start at the center position and get more opportunities with the ball either in the mid-range or in the post. Kaman scored 16 points (his best game this season) and shot 7-of-13 from the field. Perhaps the energy factor played a role in lack of offense we seen from the Lakers, who shot 38.8 percent from the field as a unit.
Negatively, Pau Gasol was the bust of the night, shooting only 3-for-12 on Friday, pushing his total to 8-for-31 for the three-game road trip. Steve Nash sat this one out as some may have expected and D’Antoni quite frankly overplayed Jodie Meeks at 42 minutes.
Anthony Davis appears patient, but aggressive, on the defense side of the ball. Blocking Gasol, catching lob after lob and coming up with the most loose balls in the fourth quarter only begin to dive into the specifics!
Behind Davis, the Pelicans will learn to ride Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans through their rough nights from the field and have a legitimate shot at getting into playoffs in the always impressive Western Conference.
Topics: Anthony Davis, Chandler Parsons, Chris Kaman, Defense, Dwight Howard, Houston, Houston Rockets, James Harden, Jordan Hill, Jrue Holiday, Kevin McHale, Lakers, Lakers 49 Wins, Los Angeles Lakers, Mike D'Antoni, Nick Young, Pau Gasol, Pelicans, Rockets, Steve Blake, Steve Blake Game Winner, Tyreke Evans, Wesley Johnson