Lakers Begin Crucial Stretch of Season, Starting with Clippers on Wednesday
So far this season the Los Angeles Lakers have played 18 games. The team has won 10 of those games while losing eight.
There are 48 games left in the regular season. Then there’s the playoffs. Hopefully.
It’s no secret that the team has started the season much slower than most people were expecting. After all, this is still, for the most part, the same team that has been to the NBA Finals three out of the last four years.
No matter what you want to blame the poor start on, the fact is that things aren’t about to get any easier for the Lakers. In fact, beginning Wednesday night the Lakers will go through one of the toughest stretches on their schedule this season. It will be even more difficult than the 18 games the team played in a matter of just 25 days.
Beginning with a matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night, the Lakers will play 10 games in 18 days. Out of those 10 games, eight of them will be on the road. And the two home games? Against the other team that considers Staples Center home and the team (Charlotte) that has dominated the Lakers over the past four seasons.
The bottom line is that the team’s current record makes these next 18 games that much more crucial. By the end of this stretch, which ends Feb. 12, the team will be halfway through its schedule. For a team that is currently sitting at tenth place in the Western Conference, that isn’t necessarily a good thing.
In fact, this brutal stretch couldn’t come at a worse time for the Lakers. Recent reports surfaced that Pau Gasol is unhappy with his role on the team. Andrew Bynum’s production has plummeted after a blistering hot start, and the lack of bench production is becoming an even bigger hindrance than people were expecting.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the team still has no offensive identity to speak of. Head coach Mike Brown, who was indeed brought in for his defensive schemes, has seemingly done little to combat the growing ineptitude of the Los Angeles offense. Since moving to Los Angeles back in 1960 the Lakers have averaged 98 points offensively. Over the course of 50-plus years, that’s pretty impressive.
The current squad? Just 92 points. Not ideal.
Basically, I see the next two weeks going one of two ways for this current Lakers squad. They will either continue to sputter and stall like a rusted 1973 Datsun pickup, or they could miraculously turn things around and upgrade to a slightly nicer metaphor. They probably won’t look the Lamborghini-esque team of 2009, but they will at least be something that won’t have trouble making it up a hill.
Anyways, as we move off the road and back onto the court it’s important to recognize just how crucial this stretch of games could be for the Lakers. If the team continues to struggle there is a very good chance that general manager Mitch Kupchak pulls the trigger on at least one trade. The scary thing is that that trade might not even be one that brings in the two names most people are thinking about. Nobody likes losing. Especially Lakers fans. The rising stock of the L.A. Clippers certainly isn’t making things any easier for the Lakers, who now find themselves trying to explain why they’re still the best ticket in the city.
It’s been a perfect storm of awfulness for the Lakers thus far in 2012, and it’s safe to say that Mark Wahlberg isn’t coming to the rescue this time around. (Although, he does seem to think he capable of preventing catastrophic events.) After losing three straight games for the first time this season the Lakers need to do several things to get back on track.
First, they need to remember what it feels like to win a game. Sometimes in sports teams that lose a few games in a row begin to get down on themselves. They begin to expect to lose rather than the other way around. One win can change this mindset, but with the upcoming schedule that’s not going to be easy. The Clippers currently sit atop the Pacific Division, and with Chris Paul coming back Wednesday night they will be at full strength when they face the Lakers. After the Clippers the Lakers head east to take on the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves. While neither of those teams are headed to the NBA Finals in the near future, both have enough talent to give this struggling Lakers team some trouble.
After that the team is home for a game against the Charlotte Bobcats. This might look like an easy win for L.A., but their history with the Bobcats is questionable to say the least. After that the team goes back on the road for their longest road trip of the season. As if that wasn’t hard enough, four of the six teams they will be facing were in the playoffs last season. Another is a team that is currently sitting as the fifth seed in the Western Conference (Utah). Needless to say, this is a wilderness trek that even Bear Grylls might find intimidating.
All in all, this doesn’t bode well for a Lakers team that is looking to find their identity this season. After a turbulent first month of the season the Lakers still haven’t answered many of the questions that lingered following the pre-season. The excuses are beginning to run out. It’s getting harder and harder to say that the season is still young.
Over the next 18 games the Lakers need to make a change. They need to turn off the auto-pilot and begin to realize who they really are. The only problem with that is the growing suspicion that the team we’ve seen so far, you know – the one that is barely above .500 and showing less offensive potency than most college basketball teams – is actually who the Lakers are this season.
And if that is indeed the case, look out Los Angeles, things are about to get even uglier.