Let’s be honest with each other for a moment — without Kobe Bryant the Los Angeles Lakers are about to tip-toe into the deep end of the pool without knowing how to swim. Or, shorter, they’re screwed. So screwed. Much of their offense over these 82 games has been built around Bryant’s ability either make a play, beat his defender, draw a double team, or do something Kobe-esque that, on shot release, Lakers’ fans sigh at another wild shot only to have to cheer after Bryant sinks another ridiculously difficult basket.
But all of that is gone now for Los Angeles. Now, their offense will be run through Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, with the chance that that Steve Nash may actually play come playoff time. A team that has been chastised for ignoring their two bigs will now have to fully rely on both of them to deliver a playoff push.
Of course, they also have their horns sets, which have been a staple in their offense throughout the season. The misdirection and pressure it forces on a defense make it a dangerous tool to use, and even without Bryant as an additional threat, it can still be very effective.
With the increase of touches Howard will see, this will also open up the floor for the Lakers’ role players. Steve Blake, Antawn Jamison, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, and Jodie Meeks will all need to sink the open shots that head their way, because in all likelihood, teams will have to double-down on Howard in the post.
And, while the focus will be on how far Howard will carry the Lakers on his own, Gasol stands alone as the last piece of a crumbling empire. The Lakers were able to breathe life back into their championship dreams when they landed Gasol, and now he must try to deliver a playoff run without his partner in Bryant. The two-man game between Gasol and Howard is deadly though, with Gasol’s ability to stretch the floor and force defenders to rotate over, leaving Howard to wreak havoc at the rim. While Gasol has been under the microscope much of the season for looking like a diminished version of himself (hint: the injuries impacted his effectiveness), since his return from his plantar fascia tear Gasol has looked more 09 Gasol than 11, 12, and 13 Gasol.
For the Lakers to advance through the playoffs their offense will have to be executed nearly to perfection. No open shots can be left behind, and they’ll have to make the most out of every possession they have. Can they do it? Who knows, but without Bryant holding the torch the low-expectations of a team that’s struggled to even make the playoffs have reached an even lower level. Nothing to lose, everything to gain, so there’s but one riddle left for the Lakers.
If two trees fall in the woods with no expectations around, do they make a sound? Let’s enjoy the playoffs.
Note: The Lakers playoff fate is still in the balance as of Wednesday, but we’re covering all potential teams here at HoopChalk.