The regular season is in the record books. The Lakers locked up the third seed in the West and won their fifth consecutive Pacific Division title. The court at Staples Center has new decals conveying that it is time to win or go home. It is playoff time and the quest for bringing the Larry O’Brien back to Los Angeles for the seventeenth time is about to begin.
The post-season begins for the Lakers Sunday in downtown Los Angeles, as they face their first round series opponents, the Denver Nuggets. The playoffs bring out the best and sometimes worst in teams. Favorites may lose momentum and burn out. Underdogs may prove their right to be among the NBA’s elite. The magic number for a team is sixteen once the post-season starts. The next stage will test the Lakers and the following areas needs to be analyzed.
Areas of Focus
Work Inside Out: The Lakers’ offense is at its best when it is run through the inside out. Pau Gasol’s numbers have remained consistent despite him now being the third option on offense. Andrew Bynum has had an incredible year, even with distractions, and has emerged as the Lakers’ outright second option. The two weeks where Kobe was sidelined with a shin injury only proved how important the inside game is for the Lakers. I expect Kobe to lead the offense in giving the bigs more touches, while certainly being able to take over if need be.
Share the Ball: Effective ball movement is crucial for achieving a efficient offense. The Lakers are seventh in the league for assists with 22.4 assists per night. Typically, the Lakers are able to grab a win when they win the assists battle against their opponents. When they share the ball, it creates momentum, easy buckets and solid spacing on the court. This all will frustrate the defense and make them become a step behind the offense.
Defense: Mike Brown was hired essentially for his defensive focus as a coach. However, the team’s defense has been like a roller coaster so far this season. The Lakers are the worst in the league for forcing opponents in turning over the ball. The Lakers only average forcing 11.3 turnovers per game for a +3.8 difference with their own average of 15.1. They are in the middle of the pack, giving up 95.6 points per game. They are last in the league in steals per game and missing Metta World Peace for the first six games of the playoffs won’t help matters. However, they are eighth best in the league for averaging an opponent’s field goal percentage of 43.6, which is about the same from last year’s 43.7 percent. They are fifth best in the league for adjusted opponent field goal percentage with 47.5 percent. Defense, especially against the team’s first-round opponents – the Nuggets, who led the league in points per game, will be essential for making a long run in the post-season.
Rebound Battle: This is a strong area for the Lakers and it should be considering they have two seven-footers leading the frontcourt. In the regular season, the Lakers were second in the league in rebounding with 46.3 per game and +5.4 difference in the board battle against opponents. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol need to continue leading the team in cleaning up the glass. Other players like Jordan Hill, if he’s given a chance in the postseason, will be an asset to help the Lakers to win the rebounding game every night.
Sessions the Director: Sessions was added to the team to not only bring speed, decent scoring and better perimeter defense to the Lakers, but also for his passing ability. He has averaged a little more than six assists per game during his time so far with the Lakers. However, with no playoff experience and an injured shoulder, Sessions main focus should be on getting the team involved, directing traffic and finding easy opportunities.
What to Fix
Turnovers: Controlling the ball has been a consistent problem for the Lakers this year. In fact, it has been one of the very few consistencies with L.A. this season. Overall, they are averaging 15.1 turnovers per game, which is tied for nineteenth in the league. When you first look at the turnover ranking, it doesn’t seem bad. Yet, when the Lakers face speedier opponents, the turnovers quickly lead to fast break points.
Play with Urgency: Playing with passion, intensity and a sense of urgency is a must for any team in the playoffs. After all, it is all about “Win or Go Home.” The Lakers have struggled with playing with this attitude and approach at a consistent level during the regular season. The Lakers also have a tendency to go to sleep during the game, typically during the third quarter, and blowing the lead instead of closing the game. Every team will aim to play at their highest level during the postseason. Therefore, the Lakers must play with passion, intensity and urgency in all 48 minutes of each game in order to have success.
Bench Play: The Lakers’ bench has struggled this season and is the worst in the league. This, of course, we all know. The bench’s contribution can make or break a team during the postseason. Take Dallas’ bench last season, who the Lakers were unable to keep up with in the second round. Matt Barnes and Steve Blake have definitely stepped up their game during the past two or three weeks. The game against Oklahoma City on Sunday allowed Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks to showcase their talent. The bench needs to collectively up their game during the postseason, especially during the first round with the absence of Metta World Peace.
Kobe Can’t Force Shots: Kobe Bryant is one of the best players to ever play the game, plain and simple. There is no argument there. However, Bryant’s true shooting percentage of 52.7 is the worst in his career. In losses this season, Bryant is shooting 39 percent from the field, while he’s shooting 45.5 percent from the field in wins. Forcing shots have been a problem for Kobe this season, yet his role on the team probably has never been higher. However, unlike previous seasons, Kobe’s leadership is equally of more important to the team. Kobe will find a way to have a big game, but in order to succeed he needs to get everyone involved and play as a team.
Bynum’s Mentality: Andrew Bynum’s focus, immaturity and attitude has been well-documented and witnessed for awhile now. It seemed to hit its peak about a month ago. A player displaying this character would usually be benched or even traded. However, the Bynum situation is unique because his value is so incremental for the Lakers. A lot of analysts have mentioned that the Lakers’ post-season success depends on Bynum. He must be focused and have a clear mind in the playoffs, that is for certain. Bynum must use his strength, body and skills to take advantage of the opponent’s frontcourt. Bynum must live up to his name as the best center in the West.
Sunday begins the hopeful run at capturing the Los Angeles Lakers seventeenth title. Despite having an up-and-down year with many fresh faces and new changes, expectations in L.A. are still high. It is the Lakers’ history, tradition and culture. Teams are supposed to perform in the playoffs as if they are already champions. Now it is time for the Lakers to go out and prove it to the world.