Aging Lakers struggle in Western Confrence, playoffs unlikely

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Aging Lakers struggle in Western Confrence, playoffs unlikely

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against LeBron James of the Miami Heat during the second quarter at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on Sunday, February 10, 2013. 

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against LeBron James of the Miami Heat during the second quarter at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on Sunday, February 10, 2013. 

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against LeBron James of the Miami Heat during the second quarter at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on Sunday, February 10, 2013. 

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against LeBron James of the Miami Heat during the second quarter at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on Sunday, February 10, 2013. 

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It is never smart to count a team out with 30 games remaining in the season, especially when they are only three and a half games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. It is also not smart to count a team out when there are potentially four future Hall of Fame players on its roster. But make no mistake; the Los Angeles Lakers’ season is over.

For a franchise that demands excellence and has raised 16 NBA championship banners, sneaking into the postseason and getting promptly shown the door by one of the Western Conference alpha dogs in the first round is simply unacceptable. But this is exactly the fate the Lakers face this season. With a record of 24-28, even if the Laker show somehow fend off the Blazers and Rockets for one of the West’s bottom playoff seeds, they will face certain death in the first round against the likes of Oklahoma City and San Antonio, who they are 1-4 against this season.

Whereas the Thunder and Spurs have established identities as perimeter shooting, dribble-kick teams, the Lakers are still searching for theirs. 

However, meshing the ball-demanding egos of Howard, Nash and Kobe Bryant together has proven to be a tall task.

To make matters worse, injuries and coaching changes  also crippled LA this season. Nash has missed 24 games due to injury. Howard has missed six for a torn labrum  and Pau Gasol is out for at least six more weeks because of a torn plantar fascia in his right foot. But the injury bug is simply the tip of the iceberg for LA.

Kobe-Pau, Kobe-Dwight bickering aside, the real problem with this team is philosophy and scheme. Defensive-minded head coach Mike Brown, with his Princeton offense, was ousted after the Lakers started the season 1-4. What followed would prove to be the fatal mistake, as GM Mitch Kupchak and VP Jim Buss, opting to put their own stamp on the franchise, snubbed Phil Jackson and replaced Brown with ex-Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni.

With Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun “seven seconds or less” offense, emphasis is placed on the fast break and pick-and-roll. However, this just does not systematically fit with the Lakers and their roster, with six of their nine core players 32 or older.

The Triangle was exploited to great success under Jackson, even with non-perennial All-Star post players like Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, and Luc Longley. The fact that the Lakers have two of the best in the game with Howard and Gasol and are not feeding them the ball religiously is mind-numbing. While the experimentation of a Kobe-Nash pick-and-roll and Kobe playing distributor has yielded some success in recent weeks, it is going to take a commitment to the post and a healthy frontline for this team to tap into its full potential.