The Los Angeles Lakers enter the week in a sprint to the finish line with three games in four days before the All-Star break. Following the previous week where they only had three games, the Lakers need to grit their teeth and grind out this dense stretch to finish out the first half of the season. It is, however, a tough week ahead, and not just because they play Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, but they face three tough opponents, Portland, Dallas, and for the first time this season, Oklahoma City. If they stay focused and give it all they’ve got, they can feel good about themselves as they get some much-needed R&R as they have a week off.
The Lakers are looking like they have started to get into a comfortable offensive rhythm. They have already adopted Mike Brown’s attitude towards defense, as they have become one of the league’s best defensive teams. They hold their opponents to 90.7 points per game, 4th best in the league, while they are 3rd in the NBA in keeping their opponents to a low 41.8 field goal percentage.
Unlike last year, it has not been their defense that has been the problem; but instead it is their offense that is struggling. The Lakers are averaging 93.1 points per game, 22nd in the league; compare that to last season where they averaged 101.5, which was 9th best.
One could chalk up the offensive woes to a few things — a new coach, a new system, and individual players not knowing what their role is. However, one word sums it all up, inconsistency. Metta World Peace was believed to be having trouble with the way Mike Brown was coaching but denied that rumor and simply left it up to inconsistency. Metta was quoted as saying, “Just looking for the consistency of whether I was on the bench or whether I was playing, just looking for the consistency. Once you find the consistency you already know where you stand at and you can move forward and win games.”
Every coach needs time to learn each player’s strengths and weaknesses. How they play on his team, how they fit into his system, how a player plays alongside the rest of the guys on the team. It’s beginning to look like Brown has figured out how, where, and when he will use his players. The bench has started to show improvement during the last few weeks as the Lakers scoring is reaching the mid-90’s, and with this tough stretch, the Lakers are going to need all the points they can get.
The week starts off (not including the loss on Sunday night) Monday at home against the Portland Trail Blazers as the second game of a back-to-back. The Trail Blazers (17-15) are a tough, physical team, but like the Lakers, they struggle on the road (5-10). They are led by power forward and first time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, who is averaging a career best 22.5 points and 8.3 rebounds. They are also led by starting point guard Raymond Felton, who is a fast, strong, and physical player. Both are the type of guys that give the Lakers guards nightmares.
In this game, Los Angeles has to be patient on offense and utilize Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in the post. They must make Aldridge play physical, tough defense so that he has to use his energy on both ends of the court. Most importantly, the Lakers’ guard play on the defensive end must be strong, keeping the Blazers’ guards out of the paint. Portland thrives on dribble penetration, which lead to wide-open 3-point shots, or alley-oops to Aldridge or Marcus Camby.
Wednesday night in Dallas, followed by Thursday night in Oklahoma City, will be the biggest test for the Los Angeles Lakers this year in measuring where they are as a team against the best of the West.
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