The Los Angeles Lakers head into Sunday Night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on a six game losing steak and 11th place in the Western Conference - five games behind the Houston Rockets for the coveted 8 seed in the playoffs. As of January 9, numberfire still gave the Lakers a generous 72.8 percent chance of reaching the playoffs. This figure may be the only sense of optimism in Tinseltown amidst a drama-ridden season that’s seen more twists and turns than an episode of “Days of our Lives”.
And of course, LA need a little bit of luck to turn this season around; so it may be facing the perfect opponent tonight in a very young, inexperienced 9-29 Cleveland squad. The key for the Lakers will be to get to the free throw line in bunches and make sure they keep the Cavaliers off the offensive boards in hopes of securing their first win of 2013.
Back to Basics
Although there isn't one catalyst that will help the Lakers turn this season around, it will be a take a focused effort offensively and defensively to spark the Lakers to make a run. Offensively, the Lakers need to rely on what made them successful at the beginning of the year - and that starts with getting to the free throw line.
On the year, L.A. ranks second in the free throw factor (FT/FGA) at .245, but much of that is credited to Dwight Howard who has shot a total of 329 free throws. In their last three games without D12, the Lakers have fallen to 16.7 attempts per game and relied on a perimeter-heavy game. To keep the Cavs honest, count on L.A. to attack the interior of Cleveland and not settle for as many three-pointers.
Lakers on D
It’s no surprise that the Lakers' defense has suffered during this season-long six game losing streak. During that streak, the Lakers have given up an average of 112 points per game. And in their last three without Howard, Pau Gasol, and Jordan Hill, the Lakers have surrendered 117 points per game on 51 percent shooting defense, six percentage points higher than their yearly average.
We know the defense will improve with the return of Howard, but until then, the Lakers need to focus on cleaning up the glass tonight against the Cleveland Cavaliers. For a team that struggles offensively, the Cavs’ youthful exuberance allows them to grab their offensive misses in rebounds - their 29.4 percent offensive rebound rate is good for 10th in the league.
In the Lakers’ case, super-subs Robert Sacre and Earl Clark will bear the burden of keeping these athletic frontline Cavaliers off the glass. If the Lakers can limit Anderson Varejao, and his ridiculous 16.8 ORB rate, on the boards, they’ll have a strong chance of getting their first win of 2013.