Plagued by injuries and inconsistent play, the Los Angeles Lakers have seven games left to make the playoffs, or miss out for the first time since 2005.
Two starters, point guard Steve Nash and forward Metta World Peace, are currently on the disabled list, and their return could decide the Lakers postseason fate.
The Lakers starters of Nash, World Peace, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Kobe Bryant, have missed a combined 69 games this season. The 34-year-old Bryant has missed two games this season, the fewest amongst L.A.'s starters, and is currently eighth in the NBA at 38.2 minutes per game, and third in scoring. Bryant has played through injuries this season, which include bone spurs.
Nash has sat out 25 games, and Gasol's torn plantar fascia kept him out of 31 total games this year.
When he arrived in Los Angeles last summer, Nash wasn’t expected to carry the offensive load like he had with the Phoenix Suns, but rather play the role of ultimate facilitator with Bryant on the wing and perfect pick-and-roll complement Howard roaming the paint.
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But hamstring, hip, and leg injuries have severely limited Nash’s time on the court. The 39-year-old played two minutes Tuesday night in L.A.’s 103-98 escape of the Sacramento Kings Saturday.
Nash left due to a hamstring strain and hip injury and did not play in L.A.’s 101-81 drubbing of the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday. The Lakers are tied with Utah Jazz for the No. 8 spot in the West, and could certainly use their clever playmaker.
Nash is listed as day-to-day, with Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks expected to step up in his absence. Against Dallas, Blake played 38 minutes while Meeks played 37, as head coach Mike D'Antoni basically played just seven players.
The Jazz own a 2-1 season series lead, and four of the Jazz’s last seven games are against playoff-bound teams, compared to the five playoff teams the Lakers play in the final week and a half of the season.
While Nash's absence hurts the Lakers offense, the defense is hindered by not having World Peace in the lineup. L.A.’s defense has been their Achilles' heel this season, and losing World Peace means the Lakers lose perhaps the main enforcer, and their most reliable defender on the wing.
The muscled 33-year-old underwent surgery last week to repair a torn lateral meniscus, and while the operation was successful, his recovery time is a minimum of six weeks, as reported by the team’s official site.
Prior to the injury, World Peace was averaging 12.8 points and 5.1 rebounds in 70 games played this season and leads the Lakers in steals with 1.7 per contest. His strong presence in the paint helped remedy the absence of Gasol on the defensive end.
The Lakers have gone 3-1 since World Peace went down, but that has put more pressure on the offense, with opponents averaging 102.3 points per game, just a tick above the 101.3 per contest the 25th ranked L.A. defense has allowed this season.