Defending Champs Look Like Chumps … Sort Of.
Los Angeles Lakers fans are spoiled. Look at what they have to put up with: inconsistent play, lazy defense, a so-so road record and only the second best record in the league.
The Lakers are the defending NBA champions, but they have seemed disinterested in many games this season. In their last game against Washington, one of the NBA bottom feeders, the Lakers had a 28-point lead in the third quarter. What should have been a laugher turned into a narrow seven-point victory.
That’s some serious inconsistent play.
During the last East coast three-game road trip, the Lakers surrendered 114 points to the Miami Heat. The Heat, although headed for the playoffs, are a mediocre team. Yet the Miami offense was high octane with Quentin Richardson scoring 25 points after bombing several three pointers, many of them uncontested.
These Lakers, although successful, suffer the same defensive lapses on pick-and-roll plays as Andrew Bynum, much like his predecessor, Shaquille O’Neal, doesn’t jump out at guards with the ball. So these little guys knock down open jumpers.
That’s lazy defense.
Currently, Los Angeles has a 20-13 road record. That’s actually one of the five best in the league. But it’s not the best as last season’s Lakers were road warriors with the No. 1 away record. They clinched the Western conference finals and the NBA finals on the road.
There has been a lot of talk about the Lakers’ home-heavy early season schedule. That luxury is over now, and besides, that doesn’t matter too much in the long run since every team plays 41 at home at 41 on the road.
That’s so-so for them.
This week, Kobe Bryant’s squad hits the road for a difficult five-game trip. Four of the five games are against playoff teams. The Lakers may trail the Cleveland Cavaliers by three games for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, but they have a comfortable six-game lead in the Western conference.
That’s the burden of the team with the second best record, home court advantage through three rounds. Barring a total collapse, that should stand.
Despite all of their faults, the Lakers still have the most talent in the league. They should win about 60 games and will be heavy favorites to at least get to the NBA finals.
Perhaps this team is copying the blueprint of the dominant Lakers teams led by Shaq and Kobe: cruise through the regular season and turn on the switch in the playoffs. This team doesn’t have a force like Shaq in his prime, but it is built for success.
Until someone beats them they are the defending champs. Someone has to knock them out four times in seven games. With or without home court advantage, that will be a difficult task for any team to accomplish.