- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
OAKLAND, Calif. -- In a time when the crop of young, dominant point guards might be as deep as it's ever been in league history, the Los Angeles Lakers don't have one.
Not that they don't have a young stud at the position: That's long been the case as the team has cycled through Smush Parker, Derek Fisher, Ramon Sessions and Steve Nash as their primary starter at the point in the past decade.
It's that they don't have a point guard, period.
And as much as they tried to make it through the terrible timing of having Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all go out of the lineup simultaneously, Saturday's 102-83 loss to the Golden State Warriors proved that L.A. is in dire need of those guys to return.
Playing Kobe Bryant out of position at the point is one thing, especially since he already auditioned for the role last season, racking up 23 games with eights assists or more and 11 games with 10 assists or more. Relying on Xavier Henry, Jodie Meeks, Nick Young and Wesley Johnson to platoon the point is another.
Not to rag on those four players, because all of them did an admirable job accepting the responsibility thrust upon them without complaints, but they just aren't equipped to handle the role.
L.A. coughed up 24 turnovers Saturday leading to 28 points for the Warriors. The Lakers collected just 11 assists on 26 baskets (42.3 percent), when they had been assisting on more than 64 percent on their made field goals this season.
They couldn't get into their offense on Saturday. They couldn't execute. Without the Lakers' normal playmakers in there (Pau Gasol, who had eight assists Friday, was also sidelined with an upper respiratory infection), the Warriors were free to convert those turnovers to haymakers on the other end.
What was the big secret to Golden State's defense to throw L.A. off its game? The same thing that Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive did when coaching his daughter's middle school girl's basketball team, as chronicled in Malcolm Gladwell's new book "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants" -- they pressured the Lakers full court because they figured the Lakers' inexperienced ball handlers would cave. And it worked.
"They did put a lot of pressure on us," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, who said his team put up a season-low 83 points on just 32.5 percent shooting after shooting themselves in the foot time after time by not protecting the ball. "Their second unit came in and backed us up about five feet, and we turned it over."
Said Young: "They kind of forced us to play a different game with [Toney] Douglas picking up full court and their little guards picking up full court. Me, X and Jodie kind of aren't used to having all that pressure just bringing it up."
A day off to rest their legs on Sunday should help, as will Gasol's potential return to give Phoenix something else to worry about on defense other than harassing L.A.'s ball handlers, but the point is it doesn't get any easier if the Lakers can't figure out their situation at the point.
The NBA grind is an unforgiving mistress. The Lakers tried to get ahead of the point guard situation as fast as they could by plucking former lottery pick Kendall Marshall out of the D-League on Thursday. Marshall, considered a "true" point guard for his pass-first nature (he set North Carolina's single-season assist record as a sophomore), looked even more lost than the rest of the group on Saturday, giving up four turnovers of his own in just six minutes of playing time.
But they only had one practice and one shootaround since Bryant, who had been playing point guard for four games, went out with the fracture in his left knee before playing the back-to-back against Minnesota (whom they beat, despite 19 turnovers) and Golden State, so they couldn't really ingratiate Marshall into the system that quick.
They didn't even have an opportunity to simulate press-break situations.
"When we did [that] it was in training camp when we had everybody, so it was kind of really just give it to somebody [who was a point guard] and just bring it up," Johnson said.
The good news is that Farmar is on track to return in L.A.'s next game after the Lakers finish their road trip in Phoenix, which is at home against the Miami Heat on Christmas Day, if his left hamstring tear shows it's healed upon re-evaluation the day before.
The Heat, of course, have somewhat revolutionized the game by playing without a true center for much of their past two title runs. But you can get away with that when you have a player like LeBron James, a point guard in Karl Malone's body, in there to fill in the gaps.
Asking a player like James, one of the games' all-time greats, to play some center is a little bit different from asking a player like Henry, a young player just trying to make sure he can stick around the league long enough for a second contract, to play point guard.
The Lakers have been operating with the mindset that despite all the pieces they've lost they have enough to still get it done and be a winning team this season as long as everyone keeps playing hard and keeps playing for one another.
But they're beginning to look like that old Popeye cartoon where the boat he's on keeps springing leaks and finally starts to go under when he runs out of fingers and holes to plug them.
"I mean, we don't have that many people now," Jordan Hill said with a sigh late Saturday night.
And none of those remaining people look ready enough to play point guard in an NBA game.
Farmar's hamstring can't heal fast enough.