Los Angeles Lakers’ fans may have forgotten Steve Nash even existed with the amount of time he has missed this season. Actually, they haven’t had much of a chance to experience Nash on the court since he came to Hollywood via trade with the Phoenix Suns.
After the Lakers return home from their Grammy Road Trip, they have a date with the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 28. What we learned today, however, is that both L.A. veterans will be re-evaluated that day and able to return to action if team doctors clear them for play. Bryant has missed 30 games this season due to a combination of Achilles rehab and healing the knee fracture he sustained a week before Christmas. Nash hasn’t played in a game since Nov. 10, battling horrible back problems (nerve root irritation).
While both are more than eager to play and return to their young teammates, you have to wonder how difficult of a return it will be on Jan. 28 considering the No. 1 defense in the NBA comes to Staples Center, prepared to take down any lineup coach Mike D’Antoni has on the floor.
Many have anticipated the Lakers shutting down Bryant for the rest of the year, with the thought in mind that the better road would be getting fully healthy to make his new 2-year contract fully worth every penny. The point often missed, however, is that nobody is a better judge of Bryant’s health than team trainer Gary Vitti, and Bryant himself. If both feel that he can return with the healed tibia plateau, there should be no second guesses. Lakers’ management believes this team has enough to make a run at the playoffs and, regardless of how cloudy that notion is at the moment, it would mean their best player being on the court and giving his all.
This season (six games), Bryant has averaged 13.8 points, 6.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game, but was just beginning to get his feet wet with a couple of 21-point performances and clutch plays in a win at Memphis.
Nash believes he can return to being a floor general in a high octane Mike D’Antoni offense, but everyone knows how ludicrous that prediction seems. With the Lakers currently playing at a top five “pace” in the league, can Nash trust his 40-year-old legs and damaged back to hold up? The whole issue forces you to acknowledge how much overbuilt hype was placed upon his arrival in Los Angeles on July 4, 2012.
On Friday evening, the Lakers suffered a textbook beat down to the hands of the rival Los Angeles Clippers, who scored 43 points in the first quarter of action. This performance will forever be my example when making the point about a team still being successful without their star player. Chris Paul, who will miss the next five weeks with a separated shoulder, does make the Clippers a team bound for the Western Conference Finals. However, without him, this team is not what the media makes them out to be. The thought was that the Clippers would lose a significant amount of games and fall out of the top four seeds in the conference. Little did people know, Blake Griffin can look like the best power forward in basketball on select nights, as he did against the Lakers, a team he built a reputation of humiliating for the most part.
It turned out to be a 36-point debacle, 123-87, in favor of the Clippers. Doc Rivers‘ team also scored 25 fast-break points and only turned over the ball eight times compared to the Lakers’ 21 giveaways, an example of how undisciplined they are this year.
The Lakers allowed Griffin to look as if Staples Center belonged to him, as he scored 33 points on 12-of-15 shooting. Thirty-three doesn’t do Griffin justice in terms of how aggressive he looked, considering 18 of those points came in the first 12 minutes of play. For the Lakers, it was Pau Gasol who disappointed the fans the most. Starting at center and playing 25 minutes, Gasol contributed just 10 points as the “top option” on offense, connecting on just 5-of-15 field goals. It’s quite interesting to examine Gasol’s inconsistency. When the trade discussions with the Cleveland Cavaliers were getting extremely serious, Gasol played as if someone told him his life was on the line. Before disappearing against the Clippers, Gasol’s last four games have featured an average of 21 points, 13 rebounds and 5.25 assists per game. Someone be sure to tell me who wouldn’t want that type of power forward on your team. Except when he gets shut down and outplayed by more athletic frontcourt talents.
Nick Young continues to be streaky, after playing very well in Houston on Wednesday. He didn’t look as much like Swaggy P as the team needed him to, making just three of his 14 shots.
Defensively, the Lakers are exactly what a Mike D’Antoni team was supposed to demonstrate. All kidding aside, it isn’t D’Antoni’s fault the team has no formidable defenders on the floor right now. Even when Bryant, Nash, and Blake return, there still won’t be, but they are all guys that can provide veteran basketball intelligence on that end of the floor and perhaps limit the lapses this team has every night. The only defense the Lakers were able to execute against the Clippers was fouling to stop the scoring. Even then, the Clippers shot 26-of-35 (74.3 percent) from the free throw line and were able to blow the game wide open.
Lakers’ Young had the best quote of the night after returning to the locker room with defeat:
“They just killed us,” Young said.
More alarming to the team, however, was the apparent injury Kendall Marshall suffered during the loss. Keep in mind, Marshall is the team’s SIXTH starting point guard this season, something no other team will go through. In the third quarter, Marshall rolled his ankle and was in some pain, but stayed in the game.
“I just tried to tip the ball in and I came down on Collison’s foot,” Marshall said. “If I felt like I was hurting the team, then I would have sat down. But I was perfectly fine.”
For the Lakers’ sake, they better pray Marshall’s foot doesn’t react strongly the day after the injury. If he has to miss any time at all, they are all of a sudden back to an eight man rotation.
Next up on the agenda is a Jan. 21 meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who just defeated the Utah Jazz in the debut of Luol Deng.
The Lakers are in jeopardy of falling behind the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference standings, something maybe only Kings’ supporters foreseen before the season tipped off. Surprisingly enough, there hasn’t been much chatter about the losses from general manager Mitch Kupchak. It’s probably because the 2014 draft class makes it seem like more of a good thing, than a bad thing.