Lakers' recent struggles show weaknesses
Yep, while Bynum was testing the strength of his repaired knee by carrying a Playboy playmate on his shoulders, his teammates were busy limping toward the finish of a lengthy road swing. But losses in Atlanta and Charlotte were the sixth in the Lakers' last 16 games, suggesting Phil Jackson's crew has more to be concerned about than travel fatigue.
While witnessing the Lakers in recent weeks, I've noticed a seeming lack of physical and emotional engagement possibly created by the lack of top-seed challenge in the NBA's Western Conference. It's as if they somehow forgot about the Cleveland Cavaliers, who — before Wednesday's six-point Los Angeles win at Milwaukee — had a three-game lead over the Lakers for home-court advantage throughout the postseason, which could play a big role in the Finals.
But Odom in the starting lineup has created a second-quarter leadership vacuum for the Bench Mob, whose guards — the precocious Jordan Farmar and the plucky Sasha Vujacic — have more offense-initiating responsibilities when Odom is not operating as the point power forward for the second unit.
Quite frankly, Farmar can be a tactical mess, firing up threes in transition without board coverage and often making high-risk defensive gambles that lead to dribble penetration.
Without Bynum to share part of the second-quarter basket-defending duties in a rotation with 7-footer Pau Gasol, such breakdowns have a significantly smaller chance of being erased with a blocked shot. This lack of an appreciable deterrent often promotes excessive help from wing defenders, leading to open perimeter shots in a draw-and-kick nightmare.
Vujacic just seems to mistake effort with achievement, frequently assuming that running around blindly on defense allows him to shoot whenever the Lakers have the ball.
For more insight regarding the Lakers' recent tribulations, we've consulted an advance scout employed by a Western Conference team, a man contractually obligated to watch a crazy amount of games and notice trends.
"Without Odom to create scoring opportunities with the second unit," the scout said, "Farmar and Vujacic have been attempting to make plays off the bounce. And they're not that great in those roles.
"In the past, the Laker bench really didn't have to worry about this because they did a better job than the starters in moving the ball and creating opportunities within the structure of the triangle offense. But they don't seem to trust the offense this year, or maybe their egos have grown and for that I think we can trace some of the problem to ...
"It seems like he's going through another stretch of not trusting his teammates," the scout said. "When Kobe does this, opposing teams spend less time denying the passing lanes and drop wing defenders into help automatically. This chokes off his driving lanes, so he's just raising up and shooting contested jumpers.
Without Bynum, the Lakers' defensive rebounding also has diminished, preventing a brisk transition pace that often enhances their chances to prevail. Over the last 10 games, the team that is third in league scoring is just 16th during that span.
Edited by MDI, April 02, 2009 - 10:58 AM.