October 25, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol (left), guard Steve Nash (second from left), forward Metta World Peace (crossed leg), and center Dwight Howard (12) watch from the bench during the fourth quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Valley View Casino Center. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE
This summer, like most Maverick fans, I was pretty upset. Mark Cuban blew up the Championship team and then whiffed on DWill and D12 wasn’t looking very likely.
I could have been quite happy with plan B and figured signing Steve Nash was a good possibility since he and Dirk are good friends but I was ignoring the history, so I was even more hurt when Nash not only didn’t come to Dallas, he went to the Lakers. Then Dwight ended up going there as well and so, we lost Tyson Chandler and three other integral parts of the Championship squad for nothing,—at least nothing immediately.
The only thing to do was to cry in my beer and make fun of Lamar Odom and then make fun of the Lakers. I couldn’t say they wouldn’t be one of the presumptive favorites to win it all but it’s fun to fantasize as well as antagonizing Laker fans, well-known for trolling Maverick articles and making snide comments.
But a funny thing happened on the way to this coming season opener: the Lakers when 0-8 and didn’t win even with Dwight Howard joining to the lineup. Could it be true after all that Steve Nash is too Canadian the rest of the team has too many problems?
Well, probably not, but that being said, there will be ways to beat the Lakers and now’s as good a time as any to review them.
It is likely that the Lakers WILL gel sooner rather than later. Ramona Shelbourne of ESPN Los Angeles comments:
"“Nash’s poise and Bryant’s savvy give the Lakers an advantage over what James’ Miami Heat tried to accomplish that first season they were together and make L.A. more like the 2007-08 Boston Celtics, who won a title in their first season together."
But there are individual weaknesses. Yes, they are mortal.
Steve Nash is a future Hall of Fame point guard and still playing at an elite level despite his age. However, he is not invincible. He was never a great defender to start with and as is often the case in sports, aging shows up first where you weren’t great to start with rather than eroding your strengths. Nash has generally been a defensive liability and now that is more pronounced than before.
Kobe is another future Hall of Famer who will be in the conversation regarding the greatest ever when he retires. He is, however, showing his age and injuries too. He still may not play in the opener and regardless, won’t be 100%. For down the road, let’s just say that this is a year when Kobe is almost surely going to start showing his age in a more profound way.
And was there really any need to freak out? Dwight Howard appears to be back in form but realistically, how much has his presence really changed the Lakers? Andrew Bynum was arguably the second best center in the league, so this really isn’t a huge upgrade; relatively speaking ,the big difference will be Nash and perhaps Dwight on the defensive end plus Antawn Jamison off the bench. Jamison should be their most productive bench player since the pre-Mavericks Lamar Odom.
The reality is, while the Lakers may still have arguably the best starting 5 in the NBA, no one but Dwight is relatively young and after Jamison, also not a youngster, the bench gets pretty thin.
Zack Harper of CBS Sports concurs that the bench is a primary issue:
"“What kind of production does the bench give? This is the biggest question for the Lakers. Can their bench give them anything? Antawn Jamison is on board, Jordan Hillis on board, Jodie Meeks is the floor-stretcher, Steve Blake is still there, and people are hoping Devin Ebanks can improve and emerge. I’m not sure what they have to contribute, but you’d imagine 25-30 points is probably necessary to give the starters plenty of support.Where do those 25-30 points come from?”"
On a grander scale, Charles Barkley and Shaq are among those who don’t care for Mike brown’s system overall.
Questions about the bench, the system, age and more are not relegated to Laker critics and after an 0-8 preseason, they’re not likely to go away until things improve.
Beating the Lakers will be about pushing them hard, making them play defense and wearing them down. While Howard and Kobe are elite defenders, Nash and Jamison are anything but and that must be exploited. The Mavericks must also use their new youth and athleticism to press disrupt the flow of the Laker’s offense. Since some are new to the team and even the returning players are using a system that is somewhat less familiar, the Mavericks must be pesky and not allow the Laker’s offense to flow smoothly or generate easy baskets.
Oddly enough, with the Chris Kaman on the bench, the X-Factor may turn out to be Eddy Curry. Curry is a mountain at just under 300 lbs. and he is skilled offensively. Dwight Howard is ferociously strong but Curry will present a greater challenge than he is used to dealing with. In addition, Curry is not someone that can be just shoved out of the way.
This will also be a good opportunity to see what Bernard James is really made of. He’s had a good preseason but he hasn’t had to face D12. Based on his performance so far he is likely better suited to play him than Brandan Wright.
As mentioned, Chris Kaman is still out and will likely miss at least one additional game. As of this writing Kobe Bryant was about 85% likely to play. Brandan Wright, Roddy Beaubois and Jared Cunningham are still nursing injuries but will be available.
It should be an interesting game all the way around—two teams with a lot of new pieces trying to find their way while not running at full throttle.