Headlines reading that the Cavs beat the Lakers wouldn’t sound that surprising a year ago. However, considering the circumstances, LA needs to wake up and smell the hardwood.
Cleveland is coming off of the worst losing streak in NBA history at 26 games that they just so happened to snap against the other team that plays at Staples Center. Combined with an opening day win against Boston and a November win over the Bucks, Cleveland’s win over LA last night was their third win of the season against a team that appeared in the post season last year. Last night they became 3-26 against 2010’s playoff teams.
Rookie Christian Eyenga is really coming out of his shell for Cleveland and Ramon Sessions has stepped up by averaging nearly 20 points a game this month including a 32-point performance last night against the Lakers.
However, it’s not what Cleveland is doing that should be turning heads in this situation. It’s what LA isn’t doing.
San Antonio has its Rodeo Road Trip while LA has its Grammy Trip. It hasn’t been that spectacular. Seven of their last nine have been on the road and they have only compiled one statement win by defeating the Celtics at TD Garden in that time span. Boston only had four players on the bench for that game and the atmosphere seemed more about Ray Allen breaking the three point record than an actual revenge win against the defending champs. Maybe they felt pretty sure of themselves after exacting that revenge in late January with a 109-96 win in LA.
In their 104-99 loss to Cleveland last night, LA showed that they are ready for this All-Star Break more than anyone else. On Monday, their defense looked just as anemic as they lost 109-89 to the Bobcats and their offense looked sluggish at best.
The Lakers are only putting up 96 points a game in their last ten performances and are ranked as one of the worst road teams as far as scoring with only 97 a night in other teams’ arenas. By being nine games behind San Antonio and two behind Dallas, it looks like LA might be sealed at the third spot in the West and are looking down the barrel a lot of road games come playoff time. Oklahoma City is only one and a half games behind them so they could fall even further in the standings.
We have been saying it all season: the Lakers need to retool. Phil Jackson is talking about this being his last season and Kobe Bryant is going to run out of gas at some point. The big men, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, played too many minutes at the beginning of the season and even the pundits new this would be a problem later down the road. These road games are not making the team any more energized and there is still a lot of season left.
Surprisingly, Andrew Bynum seems to be the only silver lining to this month for LA. He has been playing at a heightened leveled with all of this trade talk swirling around him. Aside from going 2-12 from the field last night, he’s been scoring and they could possibly find someone out there that interested in the big man.
It would take a lot of courage for LA to simply give up on the big guy but right now, he’s their biggest chip that they could put on the table. There are several teams that have a lot of players on the trading block but it’s up to the Lakers to decide if they would like to move on.
The trade deadline is next week and LA should be looking at least at some sort of option at bringing in another guard. Their backcourt is ranked 28th in the league in assists with Kobe leading the way. They need to reinvigorate the offense with someone that can actually move the ball around. In addition, Ron Artest needs to wake up. In the last three games (Cleveland, Charlotte and Orlando), he has scored a combined 16 points including one measly point last night. Even he has admitted that he is simply invisible on the court at times. Giving up 109 and 104 to the Bobcats and Cavs is simply embarrassing.
The answers for LA’s problems sound vague because they are. The defending champs have looked sluggish, disorganized and at time uninterested this season. Kobe isn’t getting mad and it seems like the Zen master is more hands off than ever before. It’s a conundrum that only they can solve. The sense of urgency isn’t there and it’s hard to pinpoint the problem when there are simply so many.
The defending champs have problems and that’s about all we know. They need to snap out of it or else defending the title will not be an option.