In the eyes of many NBA pundits and fans, two factors are commonly cited as the biggest threats to the Los Angeles Lakers' championship quest: health and chemistry. Both elements have reared their ugly heads during a heretofore winless preseason, often competed while key players watched in street clothes.
No question, some nerves were settled by the debut of Dwight Howard, whose mere presence provided glimpses of the high ceiling possessed by these Lakers. But as with any player returning from injury, there's always fear of setbacks. And in a game in which Steve Nash and Metta World Peace also suffered injuries (a sore ankle and a dislocated right middle finger, respectively), those concerns are compounded.
Well, so far so good.
Howard told reporters of notable soreness, but those aches are a part of the process. The center was told his body would react this way, and treatment was part of today's agenda. In other words, nothing out of the ordinary. For that matter, Nash and MWP practiced -- albeit in a session with no heavy contact -- and neither is expected to miss any games. The same can be said for Kobe Bryant, who skipped today's workout with a strained right foot. The injury took place during Sunday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings, but nobody seemed particularly nervous about an extended absence. Mike Brown confirmed that Jordan Hill is close to a return.
The benefits to having all hands on deck extend beyond just the roster's collective strength. It allows Brown to finally develop an informed opinion for a desired rotation. Between the third-stringers he's been forced to give obligatory looks and some key players being absent, the coach hasn't been able to utilize players as envisioned. And the results have been obvious, especially with the reserves on the floor.
"Jordan has played well for us and on paper, he was our backup four," Brown explained. "Especially with what we're doing, it kind of tweaked everything. My initial intention was to take a look at Antawn Jamison at the 3, so I had to move him back to the 4, which he can play, but it makes us smaller and some other things. He's done a nice job, but you miss Jordan's presence. Either Pau [Gasol] or Dwight is gonna be out there as a center, so we're gonna be able to stay big and long and athletic at the end of the day. I didn't feel like stretching their minutes, quite yet. I might stretch their minutes in the next game, to see if it can work, which I think it can.
"But it's tough, because with Jordan just about to come back, you got two games left to take a look at who our backup 3 would be, who our backup 2 would be. So it's a little bit of a domino effect."
Jodie Meeks agreed.
"Just finding chemistry," he said when asked about the bench's struggles. "We don't have our rotations down to a tee yet, but I think once we get that, our biggest challenge is going to be finding a rhythm, and when we get out there, just play our game."
On the other hand, it's taken just one game to make crystal clear how much Howard will help the Lakers. Of course, if you ask Superman, he didn't get enough credit for his work in Orlando last year. To wit, NBA.com conducts an annual survey where all 30 general managers answer questions ranging from, "Which team will win the 2013 NBA Finals?" to "Which player makes the most of limited natural ability?" (The poll is always worth a look.) As part of the survey, folks were asked to name the best defensive player in the NBA. Sixty percent chose Howard, which the center likely appreciated; but he couldn't help but wonder where his rightful hardware from last season resides in New York.
While he didn't call out Knicks center Tyson Chandler by name, Howard didn't soft pedal his opinion that he should have won defensive player of the year for the fourth consecutive season. For that matter, he has convinced bad PR during the "Dwightmare" cost him votes. "I thought I should have won it last year, to be honest with you," said the center. "I was a little bit upset about that.
“I felt like I did my job to win it. I also feel like I didn't because of the whole situation [in Orlando]. That played a factor in it."
Whether you think Howard is right or wrong is ultimately irrelevant. True, it's never particularly difficult to make a case for Dwight as the league's elite defensive force, but Chandler certainly had a fine season and it's impossible to truly know whether voters allowed distaste for the Orlando saga to color their vote. What's important is that Howard feels motivated to remind folks of the wrecking ball he can be in the lane. The guy is pretty darn good without a chip on his shoulder. Imagine the heights he can reach while feeling slighted.
And in a final bit of housekeeping, the Lakers waived Greg Somogyi and Chris Douglas-Roberts today. It's not that surprising to see either cut, but CDR seemed to intrigue fans (and at times, the coaching staff). But his odds of making a team stacked with guards and guaranteed contracts were decidedly uphill. In any event, the Lakers now have three non-guaranteed players -- Andrew Goudelock, Darius Johnson-Odom and Robert Sacre -- fighting for two available spots. Sacre appears a lock, so it will be interesting to see who wins the battle between Goudelock and Johnson-Odom, assuming the Lakers don't leave that 15th spot open and release both.