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NBA Handicapping: Last Chance for Lakers Playoff Run
by - 2/13/2013

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Guard Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers

We can ask the same question now that we asked a couple of months ago, and the answer won’t be any clearer. Will the Lakers make the playoffs? It seems so incomprehensible that a team that invested as heavily in talent as they did in the offseason would be in an uncertain position, but thanks to some injuries and, more significantly, a comically toxic atmosphere, it’s far from certain. The public still seems to believe, though — at least according to the futures odds. At Bovada the Lakers are the fourth choice to win the Western Conference behind only Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the Clippers. That puts them ahead of six teams that sit ahead of them in the standings at this point. We know that the Lakers are a very public team, but that’s just ridiculous.

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L.A. currently sits in 10th place, a half a game behind the Trailblazers, and 3.5 games behind the Rockets, who are holding down the final spot right now. So can they make up the difference and play beyond the end of their regular season? Let’s look at that question while ignoring how badly it could go for them if they did make it and were forced to play one of the actual elite teams in the conference. You can be certain of that — the Thunder or Spurs would feast on the Lakers:

Teams ahead of them - This alone is a reason to be pessimistic about the chances of the Lakers. They are certainly capable of passing the Trailblazers — Portland isn’t particularly impressive. Utah and Houston are a different story, though. Both have a head start of at least 3.5 games, both have far fewer chemistry issues while having adequate talent, and both are playing well right now and are performing within themselves. In order for the Lakers to make up the gap on one of them they would need to win at a very high rate, and one of the teams would have to really start to struggle. It could happen, but I just don’t see either of those things happening.

Misuse of resources - Every time you watch this team play you see something else that makes you wonder if Mike D’Antoni and the coaching staff have ever actually seen their team play. They have an old, broken-down roster yet they are trying to play a high-tempo, aggressive offense. They have one of the great ball handlers in league history in Steve Nash, yet Kobe is the primary ball-handler often times. They have two potential Hall-of-Famers in the post, yet they do a lousy job of getting the ball to them. It’s all just bizarre. It’s one thing when a team doesn’t have the talent to match their system so they can’t get things working like they want. When the talent a team does have is as good as this talent is, though, then it only makes sense to work with them instead of making them work with your system. After all, it’s not like the team has to worry about building for a long future with this core. Until this changes, it’s hard to believe that they are going to go anywhere.

Kobe - Mr. Bryant is totally and utterly out of control. He’s always had a runaway ego, but it really becomes clear now how effective Phil Jackson was at getting it under control — at least to some extent. Bryant can’t handle not being in absolute control of this team. He must know he needs his two big men to perform at a high level to get him where he wants to go, but instead of working with them he bickers like a little boy. Airing grievances in public like he has repeatedly is ridiculous. Having the petty grievances he has had is ridiculously immature. His behavior hit a new depth of oddity on Tuesday night against the Suns. He seemed to decide that he would show the team what could happen if he didn’t shoot. He was just 1-of-8 from the field, he turned it over eight times, and he wound up with only four points. The Lakers still won, but they shouldn’t be in the position of winning despite their leader. Kobe being Kobe this year is the biggest weapon the Jazz, Rockets and Blazers have this year in their playoff hunts.

Dwight Howard - I get that he’s hurting, but this guy is just ridiculous. It wasn’t that long ago that he was Superman — one of the most likeable and respected players in the league. That seems like it was three lifetimes ago, though. The destruction of his image has been almost Tiger Woods-like — except Tiger at least got to have some fun first. Now he’s a pouting, spoiled child who cares about too many things more than winning. And he needs his daddy to stand up for him as well. His numbers haven’t been terrible this year, but they are far from good enough. Unless he decides to take the team upon his back — and stand up to the bully in the backcourt that he is clearly afraid of — the Lakers have no playoff future.

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