Stumbling into the Playoffs

With Gary Vitti probably having one of the most stressful seasons of his career as the legendary trainer of the Los Angeles Lakers, there have been a multitude of games since the All-Star break where the team has struggled to put the ball in the hoop.  However, no team should ever rely on their ability to outscore their opponents because defense will always be the ultimate equalizer in the playoffs.  The NBA’s 16 team tournament necessitates a much slower tempo that forces teams to buckle down and grind out hardy victories.  Sure, the Lakers may need to make huge shots on their way to repeating as champs, but above all else, they will need to earn monumental defensive stops.

Offensive execution in the triangle offense should easily be tidied up by the Lakers in the playoffs given that this team has been together for enough years now and after all, they did bring that lovely golden trophy back to L.A. last year.  Defense on the other hand, is said by all analysts and coaches alike, to be an aspect of the game that requires developing good habits and eliminating as many bad ones as possible.  Although the Lakers have steadily remained in the top 10 in terms of points allowed per game all season, albeit in 9th, the squad does seem to have fostered a few bad habits that will spell the difference between repeating and not.

I do hate to keep bringing up the Blazers game, but the loss really summed up the Lakers’ defensive flaws in the proverbial nutshell.  None of our guards could stop Andre Miller when it mattered most (all game for that matter), poor communication led to late or absent defensive rotations, and we couldn’t stop a team that was missing its best player at home, ala Denver and San Antonio.  For all the fierce proponents of home court advantage, I beg to differ in the debate.  Having the edge in home court means nothing if you can’t defend make-or-break possessions with continuity in the clutch.

What frustrates me the most is that it’s not as if the Lakers don’t know what they should be doing.  Blowing leads and getting blown out all have the same central cause – a lack of concentration and effort, especially on the defensive end.  While we all agree that the entire team must execute together, it’s just as obvious that Kobe and Ron Ron will need to be the ones to lead the way.  Most importantly though, we do also need Drew back in the mix commanding the paint with his length and affection for swatting away shots.

All of us in Laker Land are growing increasingly impatient and the team included, cannot wait for April 18.  However, to say that the Lakers are guaranteed to strap down and defend teams in the playoffs with championship moxie is more of a hope, not a guarantee.  What I am counting on though is that there is no way the team will hand the crown to any of the challengers that are looking up at us.  The effort, energy, and focus will be there come Sunday.  Well, it damn well better be.

NEXT: The Road to the Repeat
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