Besides watching our dynamic Denver Nuggets work their way through the first round of the playoffs, I must say I am completely enamored with the Los Angeles Lakers’ playoff run as well.
It’s high drama with the Kobe-less Lakers right now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Dwight Howard is not nearly as good as he is supposed to be. I really wonder if Lakers fans will want Howard to stay after their season concludes. But that is a question for another day – maybe the day the Lakers get swept out of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs.
First off, the main reason why the Lakers even find themselves in the playoffs is because of a monumental collapse by the Utah Jazz during the second half of the season. Yes, the Lakers won a few big games here and there but lets be honest, the Lakers wouldn’t be in the post season if it weren’t for the Jazz.
As the playoffs drew near and the possibility of a Laker playoff run began to be a reality, a lot of sports columnists and talking heads emphasized the newly dangerous Lakers, despite their regular season woes. If they just make it to the playoffs, anything can happen. If there is a team that knows how to win in the playoffs, it’s the Lakers. I will admit that I bought into that argument, at least slightly. If the Los Angeles can get in with Kobe Bryant leading the charge, who knows what kind of Lakers magic can happen in the playoffs?
And then there was the injury heard around the sporting world when, a week before the playoffs, Bryant goes down with a season-ending Achilles tear. There were a lot of people who said when Bryant’s season ended, so did the Lakers. Kobe was the one and only player the Lakers could count on to score points.
There were others, like myself, who said Kobe’s injury was a blessing in disguise. Earlier in the regular season, Kobe went down with an injury, and while he was recovering for several games, the Lakers looked like a completely different team – let me emphasize here that they looked more like a team. I thought with Kobe out, despite his ability to score 48 points on any given night, the Lakers would have a better chance of making it further into the playoffs. Without Kobe, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, and the rest of the Lakers would find a more well-rounded way to win games.
Perhaps Dwight Howard would finally blossom into the big-man superstar he’s supposed to be? I know Lakers fans are getting desperate to see that.
So the Lakers took on the second-seed Spurs on Sunday, in game one of a seven-game series. It was old guys versus old guys, and should have been a dream matchup for the younger Dwight Howard. What happened? Dwight played decent defense, but could not post up and score down low. Gasol couldn’t do it, either.
Basically the Lakers got their asses handed to them by the Spurs, 91-79. Steve Nash’s triumphant return for the Lakers didn’t really have an impact on the game. There were no surprises from the Lakers, which I’d thought might happen. They didn’t play inspired basketball without Kobe on the floor, and their shot selection was absolutely terrible.
Howard led the Lakers with 20 points and 15 rebounds. Gasol had 16 points and 16 rebounds. They both had double-doubles, but the Lakers just couldn’t regularly find their way into the paint. Howard needed to take it to the basket more to get the Spurs’ Tim Duncan into foul trouble; instead, both Gasol and Howard ended up taking jump shots. Way too many jump shots.
As much as I want to fault the Lakers for not being able to make a decent percentage of jumpers (with open looks) and not being able to get Howard and Gasol to work down in the post, we must credit the Spurs for their defense. They came in with a game plan, knowing that the key to the Lakers success would be Howard and Gasol down low. So they double-teamed them, and switched coverages on them often. They gave the Lakers good looks at the baskets, and somehow knew they wouldn’t have a good night shooting because, well, Kobe’s the only one who can really shoot a high percentage of jump shots on the team.
Perhaps the most entertaining part of Sunday’s Lakers’ loss is that not only did the Spurs know how to shut down the Lakers offense, Kobe Bryant knew how they would do it, too. Even though Bryant was recovering at home from his injury, he still made his presence known through constant tweets he made throughout the game.
“What I would say if I was there right now?,” Bryant tweeted. “‘Pau get ur ass on the block and don't move till u get it’ #realtalk.”
And, “Gotta milk pau in the post right now and d12. Will get good looks from it.”
And, “Post. Post. Post.”
Kobe knew it. The Spurs knew it. The only way the Lakers have a shot in the playoffs is if Howard and Gasol can post down low over and over again and score points. It didn’t happen on Sunday and I don’t suspect it will have happened on Wednesday, either.
And here lies the problem the Lakers have with Dwight Howard right now. They picked him up to be a big man. To do the dirty post work down low. He’s relatively young. He’s physical. He should be a special player. For some reason, he hasn’t been able to prove that to the Lakers at all this year. He’s got a lot of emotional baggage. He’s not having fun. Dwight hasn’t come into his own in a Lakers uniform at all.
With a high price tag and lots of questions remaining, will the Lakers want to keep him next season? I suspect for the Lakers ownership, that’s a question that has already been answered. They will pay to bring Howard back. The question is when will Howard become the Dwight Howard he’s supposed to be?
It’s a question I don’t have to worry about, but I will definitely enjoy the drama as the Lakers search for answers. Go Nuggets.