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In the summer of 1996, Shaquille O’Neal joined the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent, leaving the Orlando Magic high and dry in the process. It’s been close to 16 years since that incident occurred so as the saying goes, time heals all wounds, right?
Well, given that there’s a legitimate possibility that Dwight Howard could be traded to the Lakers at the deadline, you can forgive Magic fans if they feel like old wounds are being opened up. Shaq was a franchise center that wanted to play in the bright lights of Los Angeles, and it’s more than obvious that Howard also wants that stage (the same applies for cities like Dallas and Brooklyn).
Will Howard actually leave the Magic?
No one knows the answer to that right now. What we do know in the immediate future is that the Lakers, playing on a back-to-back after losing to the Miami Heat on Thursday, are in town. Orlando and Los Angeles square off in their only matchup of the regular season. The Lakers, with a new head coach, a relatively new supporting cast, and a renewed Kobe Bryant (for now), have changed. As such, the Magic will be facing a different opponent than they’ve been accustomed to facing dating back to 2009.
For more on the Lake Show, Andy Kamenetzky of ESPN Los Angeles as well as Darius Soriano and Phillip Barnett of Forum Blue & Gold drop some knowledge and share their insight.
Fact or Fiction: The Los Angeles Lakers should be considered the favorites to win the Western Conference?
Phillip Barnett, Forum Blue & Gold: Fiction. Right now, I think the Lakers are in the mix to contend for the Western Conference title, but they’re far from the clear-cut favorites as they have been in recent years. Between Dallas defending their title and Oklahoma City on the verge of breaking through, winning the West will be a challenge for the Lakers.
Andy Kamenetzky, ESPN Los Angeles: Fiction. Unless you’re a Laker fan who puts the “home” in “homer.” The West’s best is clearly OKC, and a bunch of other squads are jockeying for the other spot in the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers can be that team, and I haven’t bought into the demise many have predicted, but their margin for error is undoubtedly small.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue & Gold: Fiction. The Lakers have holes at PG and (somewhat) at SF while having an unreliable bench. A team with that many question marks surrenders its status as “favorites” to win the West (or a championship) to a more complete team like the Thunder.
What is the Lakers’ biggest weakness right now?
Barnett: Their biggest weakness is point guard production, especially now with Steve Blake missing time due to injury. Fish and rookie Darius Morris can’t guard the better point guards, as evidenced by the damage Chris Paul caused in Staples. And Morris isn’t ready for the responsibility of running a championship contending offense yet.
Kamenetzky: Point guard, age, and a wing not named “Kobe” who can penetrate and create for himself are legit concerns. But the biggest is the dreadful three-point shooting. Without a floor fully stretched, a theoretical elite point guard (much less the Lakers’ actual seven-footers) gets neutralized by packed lanes. Plus, long misses create long rebounds, which puts the Lakers in transition too often.
Soriano: I’d call it a tie between outside shooting and bench production. The Lakers are last in the NBA in 3 point FG% and don’t have a viable back up shooting guard to Kobe (who, as a result is playing nearly 38 minutes a night) while also not having a reserve scoring more than 8.5 points a game. I honestly can’t choose what’s the bigger issue for this team.
Why is Kobe Bryant using up so many possessions on offense?
Barnett: A lot of it has to do with his new found freedom without the constraints of the triangle. He’s handling the ball more because of the lack of point guard reliability, and Pau Gasol still hasn’t found his way in Mike Brown’s system. His ridiculous usage rate will be problematic in the offense’s development as the season progresses.
Kamenetzky: The pragmatist in me blames an early schedule allowing virtually no practices to learn a new system. Thus, as Mike Brown has noted, Kobe’s been summoned to keep a somewhat offensively-limited team afloat. The pessimist in me says Brown’s catering too much to 24, who’s already motivated to show up Father Time and any doubters. In reality, it’s probably a little of both.
Soriano: The answer to this is actually complex but in simplistic terms, he’s the only perimeter playmaker the Lakers have and remains their main scoring weapon. When a team is as reliant on one player to both score and set up his teammates as the Lakers are with Kobe, a high usage rate results.