Lakers Face Most Challenging Week of the Schedule

kobeAfter a five-game winning streak, the Lakers have once again hit a rough patch in their already rocky season by dropping two out of their last three games. The Lakers can’t seem to pass the .500 mark and the ground that they need to make up after their disappointing start gets bigger and deeper. Major questions remain unanswered and are only getting more complex the deeper we go into the season.

The team remains in search for any sort of positive consistency in their performance and approach, particularly in their levels of energy and effort. While Kobe Bryant points to their age as the main cause and effect for their energy for any given night, the Lakers must find a way and an identity to manage their age’s impact, overcome it and win despite its affects.

Steve Nash commented after Tuesday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers:

“It’s confounding. It’s frustrating. We’re in a tough position. We really have a lot of ground to make up. We’re not finding a lot of answers right now, and we’re struggling a little bit. We need common experiences. So far we just look like, I think, a bunch of guys who are trying to learn each other. We don’t have that understanding yet. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re running out of time here. We can’t necessarily hit the panic button, but there needs to be a better sense of urgency.”

That sense of urgency may hits its climax for the regular season during the next week for the Lakers. The team will have their most challenging week of the schedule perhaps for the entire season, at least thus far in the season. The Lakers will go against the Clippers on Friday in technically an away game, the Nuggets in LA on Sunday, January 6th, the Rockets in Houston on January 8th, the Spurs in San Antonio on January 9th and the Thunder on January 11th at Staples.

To put this tough week of games in perspective, the Lakers have already recorded a loss to each of these teams this season thus far. Second, all of these teams are above .500 and are ranked in the top eight (playoff bound if season ended today) in the Western Conference, with Clippers, Thunder and Spurs ranked in top three of the West.

The following is a breakdown of the home and road records of each opponent depending on where the game occurs during the next week followed by team statistics for the Lakers and each of the next week’s opponents as of January 3, 2013.

Los Angeles Clippers (home record): 15-3
Denver Nuggets (road record): 9-14
Houston Rockets (home record): 13-6
San Antonio Spurs (home record): 13-2
Oklahoma City Thunder (road record): 8-4

  LA Lakers 96.8 16.2 14.1 30.4 73.7 52.5 50.7 54.5 106.4 102.7
San Antonio 97.0 19.4 14.2 21.9 73.9 49.7 54.1 57.8 107.8 98.7
LA Clippers 94.6 18.1 13.6 28.0 72.2 50.6 51.8 55.3 106.9 97.8
Oklahoma City 95.1 17.1 14.8 27.3 73.6 52.2 52.7 58.4 110.2 100.7
Houston 99.4 17.0 14.6 24.9 75.8 50.5 51.4 55.7 105.2 103.3
Denver 96.6 17.2 14.1 32.3 71.4 52.3 50.2 53.3 104.8 102.0

What the vast majority of fans and analysts have said throughout the season is shown in their offensive efficiency rating; the problem is not their offense. Their offensive efficiency rating of 102.7 is ranked sixth in the league, as their effective field goal percentage (50.7) is also in the top 10 of the league (8th). They are fifth in the league for points scored per game with 102.8.

Struggles with their offense will naturally occur at times, just as they did Tuesday night, but that is when their defense must kick in to overcome and make up for their offense. However, their defensive efficiency rating of 102.7 (17th in the league) will not cut it, plain and simple.

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Despite their excellent rebound rate and rebounds per game average (46.1), which is second highest in the NBA in each category, their general defense is lacking and is the primary culprit to the losses. In fact, they are 25th in the league for points allowed with 100.3 points per game. Not a lot of tacos have been given out this season.

The Lakers defense will be challenged as they face a tough test of five teams that are ranked in the top ten in the league not only in offensive efficiency (as shown above), but in points per game as well. The Clippers are ranked ninth with 101.4, the Nuggets are ranked eighth with 101.6, the Rockets are ranked second with 105.8, the Spurs are ranked first with 105.9 and the Thunder are ranked third with 105.5.

As I stated the offense will come, especially as Dwight Howard’s back continues to improve and his offensive explosiveness returns. However, the energy on the defensive end during the upcoming five games will be the determining factor in how they perform in each game and how their record will look come January 12th. A defensive identity for the next three and a half months is an absolute must if the Lakers want to make a push for the playoffs.

The year 2013 did not get off to a great start for the Lakers. After finishing 2012 with a bang against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Lakers once again set themselves up for major scrutiny and questioning. How the team chooses to respond and perform mentally and physically in the next five games will not only reveal a lot about this current team, but it may have a lasting impact on how they play the remainder of the season.

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