Wednesday, February 8, 2012 Updated: February 9, 2:11 PM ET
Here comes the Lake (not Blake) Show
By Peter May ESPNBoston.com
L.A.'s "other team" is coming to town. And for the first time in almost three decades, we don't mean the Clippers. Yup, things have gotten that bad for the illustrious Lakers.
They are still recognizable with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher and the Player Formerly Known As Ron Artest. But that's where the similarities end to the teams that won consecutive titles in 2009 and 2010 and appeared in three straight NBA Finals.
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They are, ahem, 14-11, trailing the Clippers, the latest rage in Lotus Land. That is the Lakers' worst record after 25 games since 2006, when the team also was 14-11 and went on to lose in the first round of the playoffs.
Phil Jackson has (temporarily?) retired to his Montana aerie, replaced by Mike Brown, who regards offense as a necessary evil. Brown hasn't reined in Kobe; Bryant leads the NBA in scoring and has been the high scorer in 18 of the Lakers' 25 games. But the Lakers' offense is now ranked 20th in the NBA in points at 93.2 a game. The team averaged 101.5 last year, ninth in the league.
No Jackson means, of course, no triple-post/triangle offense. Brown's offense, like most in the NBA, requires a point guard. The triangle did not -- and the 37-year-old Fisher masquerades as one. It will be really interesting to how Fisher -- and his sub, which could be Steve Blake, if he's able to return to the lineup -- react if Avery Bradley is unleashed on them by Doc Rivers.
The Lakers and Celtics have nearly identical records, but, at present, are going in completely different directions. The Celtics have won five straight and nine of 10 while the Lakers have dropped their past two and are an un-Laker-like 3-9 on the road. Both of these teams feature grizzled starting lineups, with four players in their 30s in each group of five.
Thus far in the Mike Brown era, Kobe Bryant has stepped up his scoring, but the rest of the Lakers are struggling on offense.
The Celtics have the better bench, at least when healthy. The Lakers gave away Lamar Odom, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, to Dallas and, on Monday in Philadelphia, their three main subs were Matt Barnes, Troy Murphy and a 23-year-old rookie from the College of Charleston, Andrew Goudelock, who backed up Fisher. They have no one as good as Mickael Pietrus or Brandon Bass.
But their starting five, while aging, is still lethal. Bynum is playing as well as any big man in the league and is coming off a 20/20 game in Philadelphia. He will be a handful for Jermaine O'Neal, Chris Wilcox and whoever else is in there. Gasol is still only 31 and has shown an ability to co-exist quite nicely with Bynum. The Lakers lead the league in rebounding.
And then there's Kobe. On Monday, he passed former teammate Shaquille O'Neal to become the NBA's fifth all-time leading scorer. He is desperate to add a sixth championship ring to his collection and, if things don't improve, he may just pull a Vesuvius again, as he did in 2007 before the acquisition of Gasol.
While he is only 33 -- he turns 34 in August -- Bryant is competing in his 16th NBA season and has logged more than 41,000 minutes. He's averaging 24 shots a game, second-most of his career (he averaged 27.2 a game in 2005-06) and four more than last season. He's also averaging 38.3 minutes and went 44 against the Sixers on Monday night.
You can almost sense Bryant's frustration as the uneven season progresses. Earlier, when asked if the Lakers' offense was a work in progress, he said that it was still in the blueprint stage. After the Lakers lost to the Sixers on Monday, he mentioned that the team's "margin for error isn't that big."
In a sense, the Lakers' plan for this and future seasons was undermined from the get-go when commissioner David Stern torpedoed the three-way trade that would have landed Chris Paul with Los Angeles. The game plan all along was to get Paul and Dwight Howard and the Lakers seemingly had one of them -- until Stern rejected the deal, as the NBA owns the Hornets.
By the time the Lakers turned their attention to Howard, Paul had indeed been traded to Los Angeles, but to the Clippers. And the dejected Odom, who had been part of the original trade package in the vetoed Paul deal, was sent packing to Dallas for a trade exception and a first-round pick. The Lakers have added no one of any importance since then, although, with the release of Derrick Caracter, they do have a roster spot available. Caracter was one of four Lakers on non-guaranteed contracts, three of whom the team retained.
Basically, the Lakers and the Celtics are savvy enough to know that they both need to stay as healthy as possible until the playoffs. Then you'll see the game slow down, the ridiculous travel come to an end, and it can all be about basketball rather than survival.
You have to think a healthy Celtics would not be scared of anyone in the East, although it would seem a stretch right now to envision them beating both Chicago and Miami. The Lakers feel the same way. Get them to April, get them healthy, maybe add another significant body to the roster, and who out West really bothers them? That's the company line, anyway.
In the meantime, there are these games that need to be played. These two glamour franchises will meet again next month at Staples Center, just a few days before the trade deadline.
Longtime Celtics writer Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.