x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Leaky LA Lakers see their swagger become a stagger

The Los Angeles Lakers have won consecutive NBA championships, but their quest for a third appears strained.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Particularly when the crown looks like it can be had.

The Los Angeles Lakers have won consecutive NBA championships, but their quest for a third appears strained.

The prideful Lakers are vulnerable. They are suddenly struggling to play with the other top teams, owning a 1-6 record against teams with better records. They have gone 5-5 in their last 10 games.

And they have already lost more games at home (eight) than they did all of last season (seven), or the season before (five).

The Lakers continue to display the kind of swagger expected of a two-time champion. They know previous regular seasons have had the rough times, only for them to right things once the real season started in the play-offs.

So maybe they are just not as focused, or not quite as hungry. And maybe they are playing exactly as good as they actually are.

One thing is for certain, their stumbles against the rest of the league's elite are swelling the confidence of their major threats.

The Boston Celtics recently handled the Lakers with ease in Los Angeles. The Miami Heat embarrassed them in Los Angeles in a nationally-televised Christmas Day game. And the San Antonio Spurs are 2-0 against the Lakers after last week's victory in Los Angeles.

The Lakers now trail the Spurs by seven games in the Western Conference, leaving them to battle for second. The Celtics, Heat and Chicago Bulls all have better records in the East.

"They're the best team in the NBA, regardless of what everybody says," Richard Jefferson, the Spurs forward, said. "There won't be a new champion until they lose in the play-offs."

There was drama aplenty last week after Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers general manager, said on Monday after the Lakers lost to the Celtics, he might have to make a trade to turn the Lakers' season around.

"I may have to look into a trade, but I'm not saying we have [talked to other teams]," Kupchak said. "We have not been playing up to our level and I don't know why. Maybe it's complacency."

That was followed by an on-line report that anonymous sources said Ron Artest wanted to be traded. It was quickly denied by Artest.

Sort of business as usual for the often-stormy Lakers. Artest, however, is clearly one of their problems. He is shooting just .408 per cent from the field and has not been the defence force of before.

Outside shooting has become something of a problem for the Lakers, making it difficult for them to consistently take advantage of their height inside with Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.

The Lakers look shaky now, yet with a second half still to turn things around.

R E V I E W

Players of the week

• Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas. The German, below, averaged 26.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, hit all 29 of his free throws and shot 60 per cent in four games.

• Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers. The power forward averaged 27.3 points, 11 rebounds and shot 66 per cent in three games.
• Carmelo Anthony, Denver. Once the trade rumours died down, the Nuggets forward averaged 28.3 points per game.

Teams of the week

• Miami. The Heat won all four of their games, including a 104-100 victory over the Magic in Orlando.
• Dallas. The Mavericks continue to roll, pushing their winning streak to eight games with four more victories.
• Indiana. The Pacers (20-27) finally had something to get excited about, winning their three games.

Duds of the week

• Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee. The Bucks guard is struggling in his return from a broken foot. In four games, he averaged six points and 4.7 assists, while shooting 28 per cent.
• Ron Artest, Los Angeles Lakers. In four games, he averaged 7.5 points, shot .333 per cent from the field, hit on only two-of-13 three-pointers and averaged 3.5 rebounds.
• Cleveland: The Cavaliers lost every game again to push their losing streak at a record 24 consecutive games.

P R E V I E W

Games of the week

• Los Angeles Lakers at Boston, Thursday. The Lakers could use a bit of revenge after that 109-96 loss to the Celtics at home on January 30.
• Chicago at New Orleans, Saturday. A meeting between two teams that like to think they are on the rise.