While everyone knew it would be difficult for the Lakers to beat the Spurs without Kobe Bryant, the team got good news when guard Steve Nash deemed himself healthy for Game 1. With his insertion into the starting lineup, the Lakers moved guard Jodie Meeks to the bench as everyone’s roles suddenly changed.
As the Lakers go into Game 2 tonight, let’s take a look at which Lakers are trending up and those that are trending down.
While he’s an obvious choice, Howard needs to dominate the paint as he did in Game 1. Howard had 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to continue his run of dominant games. In his past five games, Dwight is averaging 22 points and 13.4 rebounds as he’s led the Lakers to a 4-1 record.
With Kobe sidelined, everything revolves around the play of Howard. It seems he’s put last season’s back surgery behind him and every game looks like the Dwight Howard from Orlando. As Howard continues his strong play he not only will put up these numbers but will surely get into the fans good graces.
The Spaniard is playing his best basketball of the season when the Lakers need him the most. Without Bryant in the lineup in the past three games, Gasol is averaging 16.7 shots per game but is only shooting 34 percent from the field.
However, he is averaging 17 rebounds as he looks more engaged on the offensive and defensive end. Without Kobe in the lineup, Pau becomes the Lakers go-to player in the post and when they need a bucket the most. While he put up sub-par numbers during the regular season, the way he’s responded to Kobe being out of the lineup is the reason why Lakers fans believe the team can upset the Spurs.
Battling a hip and hamstring injury, Nash made his return in Game 1 and his shot didn’t seem to miss a beat. Granted he only shot 6-for-15 from the field, but the 15 shots were a good sign as he looked to be aggressive and score. He supplanted guard Jodie Meeks in the starting lineup and while his playmaking wasn’t up to par with what he’s done in the past, he looked good in his first game back.
Going forward, the Lakers are going to need Nash’s scoring more than his playmaking going forward. With no Kobe, they have lost all their perimeter scoring and will need him to shoot better than 40 percent in Game 2 tonight.
While it isn’t a knock to put Blake in the “trending down” category, he didn’t look like the same aggressive player that averaged 23.5 points to close the season. Blake looked hesitant with Nash in the lineup and it showed in his play.
He had 12 points on 38 percent shooting and while it’s unrealistic to expect that he would continue to score 20 plus points per game, he needs to if the Lakers are going to succeed. Blake also committed three costly turnovers as the Lakers couldn’t hang onto the ball in their Game 1 loss. If the Lakers are to beat the Spurs tonight, Blake is going to have to regain his form from earlier.
With Nash back in the starting lineup, Meeks was pushed back to the bench, but in a role, he’s had for most of the season. For him to play 20 minutes and only attempt two three-pointers is unacceptable on his part. Meeks is in the lineup to do one thing only: shoot three-pointers. While he hasn’t scored in double figures in the month of April, he was apart of a Lakers bench that only scored only 10 points.
The Lakers only made 3-three pointers and if they’re to have any chance tonight, Meeks needs to hit at least two or three from behind the arc.
It might be head coach Mike D’Antoni‘s substitution pattern, but for the latter part of this season, Clark has looked like a shell of his former self.
In Game 1, Clark didn’t score for the second consecutive game and only played 12 minutes. During that time he didn’t attempt a shot and looked lost on the court. As the Lakers have played most of the season without forward Jordan Hill, Clark has emerged as the hustle player on the team.
If he doesn’t score Clark at least needs to be active and fight for loose balls to energize the team. As is true with every Laker, Clark needs to step up and help a struggling bench unit if the Lakers are going to have a chance in the series.