The Los Angeles Lakers suffered their fifth loss in six games on Tuesday night, falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 100-94.
The defeat drops L.A. to 9-13 on the year, making them, easily, the most disappointing team of the 2012-2013 season. The Lakers began the season as the favorites to represent the West in the NBA Finals, but currently hold the 12th-best record in the conference.
One of the biggest reasons for L.A.’s struggles has been the injury to Steve Nash. The Lakers traded for the point guard in the offseason, and he hasn’t played since the second game of the season, when he suffered a fracture in his left leg.
While Los Angeles will certainly benefit when Nash returns to the lineup, he won’t be able to solve all of their problems. Through 22 games, it’s become evident that the team’s issues run much deeper than simply missing one of their starters.
When healthy, Nash is one of the best point guards in basketball. He’s averaged at least 10.5 assists in seven of his last eight seasons, and is a 49 percent shooter for his career.
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The veteran is also one of the worst defenders in the league, and won’t do much to help the Lakers stop their opponents. L.A. entered Tuesday’s contest against the Cavs scoring 101.8 points per game.
They have the NBA’s top scorer in Kobe Bryant, who has been exceptional under two head coaches this season. Offense isn’t a major concern for the Lakers with Bryant, and some key scorers.
Despite acquiring Dwight Howard, the Lakers defense has regressed this year. Even with the three-time Defensive Player of the Year Award at center, L.A. is 17th in the NBA in points allowed. Howard hasn’t looked the same since recovering from back surgery, and there’s no telling when, or if, he’ll return to his old form.
Los Angeles allowed Cleveland to score 100 points, even though they had only averaged 83.5 in their past four contests. Kyrie Irving put up 28 points, and Nash likely wouldn’t have changed that.
Nash has had a history of keeping himself in great shape over his long career, and has rarely missed games with injury. However, he’s set to turn 39 years old in February and is in his 17th season. There’s no guarantee that, at his age, Nash will return unaffected by his injury.
Pau Gasol was expected to be the fourth potential All-Star in the Lakers starting lineup. Before he sat out the last few games with knee tendinitis, he was putting up the worst numbers of his career. His poor play might not be able to be explained by his recent injury. Even with an elite point guard, Gasol may never find success in Mike D’Antoni’s system.
The big man hasn’t adjusted to his role under the new head coach. Gasol used to be a dominant post player, but has been asked to do different things this season. He’s been less effective as a result, and may never be a dominant force in D’Antoni’s system.
If Gasol and Howard can’t play up to their full potential, the Lakers will be in a lot of trouble. They haven’t proven to be very deep. Free-agent signings like Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks haven’t panned out, giving L.A. a weak bench.
Once Nash gets back on the court, the Lakers will undoubtedly improve. With injuries to Nash and Steve Blake, they’ve been forced to play Darius Morris and Chris Duhon at point guard. Both players weren’t expected to be major contributors this season, and the duo has been one of the worst in the league.
Even though the Lakers are scoring close to 102 points per game, they would have a more efficient offense with Nash at the point. D’Antoni’s system is designed to be run by a point guard with Nash’s skill set, and the two worked extremely well together with the Phoenix Suns.
Bryant is having one of his better statistical seasons in recent years, but has been forced to take on the burden of carrying the Lakers offense. L.A. is 1-10 in games when he scores at least 30 points, and he will likely have to take as many shots with Nash on the floor.
Still, Lakers fans who are expecting Nash to be their savior will be highly disappointed. He won’t improve a Los Angeles team that is constantly being beaten off the dribble and are currently last in the NBA in transition defense.
The Miami Heat underwent similar struggles in 2010, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade to form the “Big 3.” The team eventually gelled and has made it to the last two NBA Finals.
There are 60 games remaining on the Lakers schedule, but they may not have what it takes to turn things around.