The Los Angeles Lakers were playing well until a third quarter collapse that led to a lopsided defeat against the Indiana Pacers. The team looked lifeless and undisciplined, giving up easy points, turning the ball over too often, and not battling for rebounds. Pau Gasol in particular was unhappy with the performance. Gasol said there was too much one-on-one play, and was not sure why the Lakers used a small-ball lineup against the Pacers. To be fair, he’s right.
Mike D’Antoni is known for using smaller lineups with a preference for a stretch four on the court. His lineups have included Shawne Williams, Ryan Kelly and even Wesley Johnson at the power forward position. Expecting Johnson and Gasol to compete with David West and Roy Hibbert last night was a little bit far-fetched.
Johnson is a solid, athletic defender who has shown the ability to guard some of the better small forwards in the game. The problem is that his thin frame does not allow him to match up with the power forwards of the league, especially a bruiser like West. Gasol already has enough problems containing Hibbert on the boards, and going small just complicates the problem. On the opposite end, Johnson rarely made the Pacers play for keeping a bigger lineup out there (which is also a credit to their outstanding team defense).
The Lakers might not have the talent to beat most teams in the NBA, but they do have the ability to stay competitive and keep games interesting. D’Antoni must do a better job of putting the right players on the court. Chris Kaman and Gasol showed an interesting dynamic in the preseason and should be given another chance now that both are healthy. Jordan Hill is another player who has seen inconsistent minutes, even though he is the team’s best rebounder. Both of these players give the Lakers a different look and can help Gasol deal with bigger players.
The Lakers are finally getting players back to full strength, giving them depth to work with. D’Antoni needs to adjust his lineups to matchup better with opposing teams and put players on the floor that are going to compete. Hopefully they start producing better results; otherwise, he might need to start looking for other opportunities in the offseason.