But allow me to venture that the return of the Steves isn’t the end-all, be-all solution. There are issues with this Laker team that cannot be amended with some maple syrup and a seamless point guard game. For instance: the defense. As exemplified in the loss at Houston, the Lakers are incapable of stopping a determined offensive surge. The defense is one-dimensional at best. They trick themselves into thinking they are playing decent defense all game only to realize in the fourth quarter: oh this is what a team that’s actually trying looks like.
My heart fluttered a little as Howard smacked away a shot late in the fourth against Houston. I thought that was going to be it. The Rockets weren’t going to get another point because Howard had finally cracked the secret to lighting a fire under this lagging Laker defense. A foul on Howard a minute later would eradicate that flutter.
However, something must have clicked with Howard in the game against the Hornets last Wednesday night. He had five blocks and his teammates seem to be realizing his defensive power. Antawn Jamison said it’s been an adjustment for all of them to get used to the idea they have a man of Howard’s caliber to back them up if they get beat; that they don’t need to take the foul. This is otherwise known as: a defense.
On the subject of Howard, what’s another thing Nash can’t do? Shoot Dwight’s free throws. The Hack-a-Howard is a gold mine for opposing teams. Kobe said it after the loss to Orlando, Dwight will be unstoppable… once he overcomes his problems shooting the ball 15 feet, less if you factor that he can reach three feet closer just by extending his arm. We saw it against New Orleans. The Hornets tried to feel him out, throwing out the first hack at the end of the third. Howard drained both shots and wasn’t touched the rest of the game. There is simply no excuse for Dwight Howard, or any big man for that matter, to not hit free throws. I know it’s not precedent, but logically big men should be the ones leading the league in FT percentages. They get fouled the most, therefore get to the line the most and have the greatest opportunity to capitalize on uncontested shots.
There’s no doubt that when Nash gets back the offense will improve. Kobe won’t have to hang out in the post as much, Gasol should fit a little better with the distribution Nash brings and D’Antoni can finally rest easy. That’s what the emphasis should be on for this Laker team anyway. It’s what D’Antoni is good at. It’s the flashy part. It can’t be the second coming of Show Time with a defensive team. But even with the offense getting drastically better, a decent defense is necessary. In today’s NBA teams are just too good. They play too fast and put up too many points. Unless you can guarantee 120 points every night, a solid defense is essential.
What I’m trying to emphasize is that the injuries to Nash and Blake don’t give the Lakers a free pass to be less than .500. They still have issues as a team that no single player is going to fix. They need to learn to play together as a unit- not a pick-up team of All-Stars- on both sides of the ball. Basketball is the ultimate team game. In an NBA that seems to be more concerned with which player has what shoe than which player makes his team better, the Lakers have the front and center stage to take us back to that- as long as the focus remains on a better effort all-around, rather than making excuses out of injuries.