No longer do we see loads of physically dominant frontcourts that the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets or Boston Celtics produced on championship rosters. You’ll find a handful of power forwards/centers that can imitate the aggressive nature of O’Neal and the complete package of Duncan, but that’s not how teams enjoy playing anymore …. not in this era.
Three-point field goals are already valued significantly higher in today’s modern style of play, with seven teams attempting more than 24 triples per game this season. Much of it has to do with the analytic gurus shouting that mid-range jump shots are the most inefficient shot in basketball; however, a large fault can be placed on the fact that the league is simply gaining pure shooters by the year.
The 2013-14 Lakers — specifically their coach — are one of those seven that believe their best chance to win results from creating outside opportunities. Attempting 24.6 3-pointers per contest at an efficiency of 38.2 percent (third-highest in the league), Los Angeles simply plays to their personnel.
Injury battered, frustrated and low on discipline, it’s impossible to argue that the Lakers should be doing anything differently with a frontcourt comprised of Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre. Since Dwight Howard‘s departure, D’Antoni has nobody that is a physical force in the post and the team can rarely establish inside-out basketball. It’s had to be the other way around for this unit, which is why they indeed “live by the 3 … or die by the 3.”
Los Angeles lived to see another day on Friday, downing the Sacramento Kings 126-122, by tying a franchise record with 19 made 3-pointers. Jordan Farmar, who has been injury plagued most of the year with two nagging hamstring injuries, is finally to the point where he can move freely on the court with no pain. He sure sent pain to Kings’ coach Michael Malone, as he buried eight triples of his own to net a career-high 30 points in a ridiculous 72-point second half for the Lakers.
The NBA is truly becoming (or already is) a “make or miss league,” as the famous — or infamous — Skip Bayless has stated countless times.
His point is 100 percent spot on, if you sit back and dissect it. Today’s game features some of the most athletic talents not only in NBA history, but in the history of sports. You’re not going to be able to stop the world’s greatest athletes every time from creating shots or attacking the rim. When teams heat up from beyond the arc, there’s only so much a defense can do. For better or worse, the NBA is becoming a version of the NFL, a league that now gains most of it’s attention off highly prolific offense each week.
Despite the season-high 126 points in Los Angeles’ 20th win of the season, is there honestly much more to play for this season?
No, I’m not being a pessimist. It’s taking a logical approach and realizing that when the Lakers aren’t finding the bottom of the net with their 3-pointers, there are loads of problems that will still have them fighting for a top draft pick.
Take the following clip for example, a defensive possession that occurred in Friday’s third quarter:
The footage speaks for itself, as one King (Rudy Gay) single-handedly out-rebounded and put forth more effort than four Lakers. Of course, there are always exceptions in the game of basketball. For instance, long shots cause long rebounds that are impossible for any big men to track down in traffic. However. this does not fall in that category. The ball bounces off the rim in fair game and nobody feels the need to box out Gay effectively.
Los Angeles is the team that indeed gave up 21 offensive rebounds to the Indiana Pacers last Tuesday. Granted, Indiana does secure the third-highest total rebounds per contest, but the lack of effort defensively was also present in that beat down.
Sometimes the play appears more ridiculous in a stand-still picture:
That opens up the central problem on that single play. Head coach Mike D’Antoni is a proponent of the small-ball lineup with this group and you notice Kendall Marshall, Kent Bazemore and Jodie Meeks all in the game together. On this particular night, he won’t be criticized considering the bombardment of outside triples that fell. But perhaps, if Bazemore wasn’t left to cover Gay or if the team would’ve acknowledged him after the inbound pass, he would have been eliminated from grabbing the rebound that put Sacramento up by 12.
The second clip isn’t a lack of effort, but it illustrates some of the lack of defensive communication that’s been apparent all season for the purple and gold:
As Ray McCallum heads to the baseline to set a screen on Bazemore (for Gay), the guard duo of Farmar and Bazemore loses communication on one of the more simple plays of the night. Bazemore follows Gay to the basket, unaware that Farmar was there for protection. Farmar expected Bazemore to recover on McCallum after the screen. When that failed to happen, McCallum drifted to the left wing for an uncontested 3-pointer that pushed the Kings’ lead to 12.
It’s understandable that Bazemore is going to commit mistakes considering he and Brooks are yet to have a full week of practice with the team, but the Lakers have witnessed the same problems from majority of the guys on this roster since the season tipped off.
Los Angeles was lucky to have had Farmar and Brooks combine for 53 points off the bench on the offensive side of the ball, because the defense — effort or talent — was not apparent for all four quarters.
Fans of the Lakers should probably detach their love and pride for the next couple weeks, unless feeling pain is OK.
Up next, Los Angeles travels to the Moda Center to take on the Portland Trail Blazers, who defeated the Lakers 114-108 in the first meeting on Dec. 1. Portland has experienced their ups and downs since then, but have also won five straight games and are an impressive 23-7 at home this season.
The Lakers, who are now 20-39 and tied with Sacramento for last place in the Western Conference, face seven disheartening matchups after they’re finished in Portland. New Orleans, the rival Clippers, Denver, Oklahoma City and San Antonio are all on the schedule between now and March 19. If that’s not scary enough, Oklahoma City and San Antonio will be opponents during back-to-backs of that stretch, giving Los Angeles four games against the two most dangerous teams in the West.
“Good luck” likely won’t be enough to help moving forward.