Pulse of the NBA

12:18 PM, Jan 9, 2013   |    comments
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New York, NY (Sports Network) - All the excitement, enthusiasm, and optimism that Lakers' nation was feeling over the summer seems like a distant memory now. The return of Steve Nash was supposed to cure a lot of what ailed the Lakers but it simply hasn't. And now with Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill sidelined indefinitely, it's a very real possibility the Lakers won't make the playoffs.

Even if this team had stayed healthy, it doesn't appear like it would have come close to reaching its championship expectations.

Why have they been so bad? Let me count the ways.

1. The defense has been awful. The Lakers rank 26th in points allowed, giving up 101.5 per game. The only time they seem to play some semblance of defense, or maybe the opposition is letting up a little, is in the fourth quarter, when they are trying to dig themselves out of a hole. Over the last eight games, which coincides with Steve Nash's return, the Lakers have given up an average of 85.1 points through the first three quarters. That's an average of 28.3 points per quarter, which would equate to giving up just over 113 points per game.

2. The Lakers' bench is one of the worst in the league. Their reserves are 28th in bench scoring, averaging 25.9 points per game and are 25th in field goal percentage at 41.3 percent.

The two big offseason additions to the second unit, Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, have been big disappointments. Meeks is averaging 8.6 points per game while shooting just 37.8 percent from the field, and has had way too many games where he's shot the ball very poorly. He also settles for the 3-point shot way too much, with 66 percent of his field goal attempts coming from downtown. And Jamison, who averaged 17.2 points as a starter in Cleveland last season, is putting up only 6.8 points in 19 minutes per game for the Lakers and had a recent six-game stretch where he was a DNP-coaches decision. Neither Meeks or Jamison is very good at creating their own shots or ones for teammates, which is something the Lakers' bench has been missing since the departure of Lamar Odom.

3. Dwight Howard obviously hasn't been 100 percent since his offseason back surgery and I believe it's wrong to assume that he'll eventually be back to his normal level of play this season. His lack of explosiveness and athleticism is hurting him on both ends of the floor. He has been slow moving from the weak side to the strong side on defense and he hasn't been as effective on offense with his lack of quickness and lift around the rim.

4. Mike D'Antoni only knows how to coach one way and it's the wrong way for this Lakers team. His offensive system doesn't fit the talent he has, and his inflexibility and stubbornness to have them adapt to his style rather than play to his players' strengths is just plain stupid. His misuse of Pau Gasol is mind boggling. Having the four-time All-Star play on the perimeter would be like asking Hornets' PF Ryan Anderson to play on the low block and not shoot any threes.

On the halftime show of ESPN's broadcast of the Lakers-Clippers game last Friday, Magic Johnson, Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons all took direct shots at D'Antoni.

"I just watch this Lakers team, I don't know what Mike D'Antoni is doing," said Simmons. "They have Pau Gasol, who in my opinion is one of the three best low post players in the league, and somebody, who in the Olympics was taking on double teams against the best that America had to offer, and he's (D'Antoni) burying him shooting threes. Why is he 25 feet from the basket?"

He also addressed D'Antoni's general coaching philosophy. "Coaching is about adapting to who you have," Simmons said. "It's not about here's my system, you guys have to fit into this. It's like, who do I have, how do I make this work, what are the strengths and weaknesses of my team."

Former Lakers great Magic Johnson also was critical of D'Antoni's approach to coaching.

"They're not playing smart," Magic said after giving up 61 first-half points to the Clippers. They shot 14 3-point shots. That makes it easier for the Clippers to run. It's stupid basketball."

Magic then added, "You have to adjust your game plan to who you're playing each and every game," said Johnson. "Right now, Coach D'Antoni is coaching one system against every team. That's why the Lakers are losing."

Meanwhile, Rose's comments alluded to D'Antoni's deficiencies on the defensive end of the floor.

"Anytime a head coach on any level is known as a specialist, that means he's lacking in the other areas," Rose said.

The reality right now for the 15-19 Lakers is that a team that had championship aspirations is in serious doubt of even getting to the playoffs, which Nash acknowledged after last night's loss to the Rockets in Houston.

"There's no guarantee," Nash said of the Lakers being in the postseason." I think three or four weeks ago, people would have said, 'Ah, it will get better.' Now I definitely don't think there's a guarantee it will, so the only remedy is continue to work hard and give yourself a chance for it to get better.

"I obviously think with time, and that might mean through the summer, we can get better. But for this season, it's definitely going to be a challenge to turn this around. ... We got a number of things we got to try to improve on, to get better, but one thing that we can't accept is to take our foot off the gas and accept things. We got to continue to fight."

If the bad defense, bad bench play and bad coaching continues, it's a fight the Lakers could certainly lose.

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