James Carlucci

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Gauging L.A.'s Chances in May

March 28, 2012
It's been years since a writer had to clarify which L.A. team is the subject of an article with the above title. Unfortunately, the Clippers aren't laughable anymore, but they also aren't getting this article's attention. It's the Lakers. Even in a successful Clipper season- it's always the Lakers.   
   
  
The Lakers likely finalized their roster with deadline trades that netted them Ramon Sessions and future cap space in the form of Jordan Hill. The team's chances come playoff time will rest in the hands of Sessions, Andrew BynumPau Gasol, and Kobe Bryant, as well as their double agents on competing contenders- Lamar Odom on Dallas and Derek Fisher on OKC (neither of whom are doing a good job of hiding that their missions are to cripple their current teams).
   
Even with the Sessions acquisition, L.A. is an old team in a condensed season, with a new coach who has broken away from the triangle offense in favor of a Kobe-centric offense that has seen the aging Mamba strike far too many times for his own good this season. How many more strikes does Kobe have left? The 40-point streaks are a testament to his skills and hard work, but I'm sure Laker fans would have been okay with surrendering a few regular season games for an invigorated Bryant late in the season.   
   
Some of Bryant's stats have been trending downward: he's shooting below 42 percent since the start of February, and his assists have decreased since that point as well (5.4 to 4.1). Getting used to the presence of a point guard who can actually set Kobe and the others up is a point in L.A.'s favor, as hopefully, Kobe doesn't need to carry such a ball-handling/creating load for the team.   
   
The Lakers are ranked 15th in offensive rating and are a horrendous shooting team (31.4 percent from 3-point range, 27th in the league), but they have efficient big men who will cause mismatches in the postseason. Bynum's career year- he's averaging 18.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game with a true shooting percentage of 61.4- is more impressive when you think about the lack of spacing L.A. provides him. If he can continue to handle his fair share of the scoring load, L.A. can be dangerous. Outside of Dwight Howard, there probably isn't a better low-post scoring center in the league today. Sessions and Bryant need to deliver him the rock.
   
Defensively, the Lakers rank 11th in the league right now and do a surprisingly good job of defending the 3-point line (4th in percentage against) despite having older wing players. Will that defense carry over into the playoffs? Last year, Dallas destroyed L.A. with the 3-ball by moving the ball faster than L.A.'s older legs.   
   
The Lakers have a sturdy defense based around the length of Bynum/Gasol, and they'll have a steady offense if they can properly incorporate Sessions into the mix. An inspired surprise performance by a role player- perhaps rookie Andrew Goudelock- would definitely help in May.   
   
More than likely, if L.A. is going to make the NBA Finals, they'll have to get through the Thunder. Defending the Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook/James Harden/James Harden's beard quartet appears a daunting task for an aging team, but Gasol/Bynum is a great counter, especially against a talented but underwhelming OKC frontcourt.   
   
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