Amidst the departure of then-head coach Mike Brown, the Los Angeles have moved to 3-4, one game away from the .500 mark. The .500 mark may not seem like much and approximately 90.3 percent of the season has yet to be played; but a win tonight against the Spurs would give the Lakers a fresh start.
After opening the season 1-4, in which they lost by an average of 9.3 points, the Lakers won two consecutive games over the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings under the tutelage of assistant turned interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff.
The Lakers’ offense, ranking sixth in offensive rating (106.3 points per 100 possessions), is clicking even despite the rigors of the Princeton offense limiting the effectiveness of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. The addition of Mike D’Antoni, an offensive mastermind whose spearheaded some of the most efficient offenses in league history, could stand to alleviate the constraints of the motion-based offense in favor for a more pick-and-roll intensive attack, which would benefit the potentially prolific pick-and-roll tandem.
Defensively, the Lakers have struggled. Since the season is still in primordial stages, they jumped from 25th in efficiency to 18th in less than a week. This isn’t where the Lakers would like to be at the end of the season, of course, though D’Antoni doesn’t figure to influence the defense in a positive manner given his track record.
At this point, the Lakers will take anything positive to drown their inauspicious beginning to the season. Unless something catastrophic happens, they have survived their toughest test of the season.
That is, until the playoffs begin.
Kobe — the paragon of efficiency? Bryant has become synonymous with scoring. He’s averaged 25.4 points a game through 17 seasons, accounting for nearly 30,000 points — a mark in which only all-time greats Wilt Chamberlain (31,419), Michael Jordan (32,292), Karl Malone (36,928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) have reached.
But as an efficient scorer? Not necessarily. In fact, Bryant’s shot selection has been a polarizing topic for the NBA geekery. Some believe he is an overrated scorer in the clutch, citing his poor shot selection — with long 2-pointers representing 50.8 percent of his shots in the final five minutes of a five-point margin; and 44.7 percent in non-clutch situations — and some trust him with any conceivable shot. Until this season, Bryant hasn’t combined his scoring proclivity with efficient percentage.
This year, Bryant is scoring 26.2 points per 36 minutes despite taking the fewest attempts since his 1997-98 season, his second year in the league. He’s done so by shooting better on 2-pointers (.575), 3-pointers (.433) and free throw percentage (.917) while crashing to the line 6.9 times per game.
The Dwight Howard effect: With three Defensive Player of the Year awards under his belt, Howard would seem to be the antidote for the Lakers struggles on the defensive end — you can count on one hand the players who can single-handedly improve a defense and Howard would be one of them. For now, that hasn’t been the case. The Lakers have allowed 5.9 points per 100 possessions more with Howard on the floor in addition to rebounding at a higher rate (.598).
Backcourt issues: The injuries to Steve Nash (fibula) and Steve Blake (mild abdominal strain) mean that Chris Duhon and Darius Morris will be asked to handle the majority of point guard minutes. Morris, a two-year guard from the University of Michigan, has played well in limited minutes though he hasn’t played big minutes against a deep backcourt. Duhon started five games last season, and he can shoot relatively well, but he doesn’t have the lateral quickness to stay in front of anyone.
Where to watch: The game will be shown on Fox Sports Southwest (FSSW) and NBA TV at 9:30 p.m. CST. It will also air on stations 1200 WOAI and 1350 KCOR in Spanish.
Injury report: Steve Blake (abdominal), Earl Clark (groin) and Steve Nash (leg) will miss tonight’s game. Chris Duhon will likely start at point guard.
Devin Ebanks (DUI) is questionable.