The Magic Number

Recent tweet from @Lakers: “Gear up for Lakers Playoffs! TEAM LA has all the latest 2011 Lakers Playoffs merchandise. Shop now @ LAKERSSTORE.COM”.

In the immortal words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend!”

People are F-R-E-A-K-I-N-G out. The Lakers are tied two games apiece with an inferior opponent. Kobe Bryant is on crutches with a sprained ankle (possible stress fracture – conspiracy alert!), and although Laker fans have seen him perform well in the past under similar circumstances, he’s a bit older and it’s hard to tell how fast he will be able to recover. Pau Gasol is being outplayed by not only every Hornets big man, but also his younger brother over in Memphis. Lamar Odom has everyone guessing how he’ll play, former Laker Trevor Ariza is giving the Lakers fits on both sides of the ball, and even the Lakers’ reserve players can’t seem to figure themselves out.

It’s convenient to chalk everything up to the play of Chris Paul, who has showed why he is considered to be the league’s best point guard. It’s not that simple though, because CP3 isn’t putting up 50-60 points a game, the entire Hornets team is playing well around him. Chris Paul can continue to put up the numbers he has been, and the Lakers should still be able to win the game.

The key for the series, and the season, is the Lakers play offensively. Their defense becomes directly affected by their offensive production. When the Lakers score the ball, they are able to set up their defense with everyone back before the offense gets into the half-court. When they fail to score on a possession, more often than not the Lakers either give up a fast break, or some players fail to find their man on the way back down court and are therefore forced into switching, which leads to Andrew Bynum guarding Chris Paul after just one screen because everyone gets confused. Less empirically, the Lakers seem to get energized after consecutive scores. Feeling the scoring run coming on they seem to collectively raise their play defensively.

More empirically, for the Lakers to win consistently, the offense needs to get above their “magic number”, which is 92. When the Lakers score 92 points or less during the 2011 season and playoffs, they are 7-14. The Lakers have lost a total of 27 games this season, including playoffs, so over half of their losses have come when they have scored 92 points or less. Of the 7 wins, they either came against an inferior opponent (Hornets, Clippers, Timberwolves, Bobcats) that would’ve resulted in a loss against a better team, or they were against a very tough defensive team who traditionally plays the Lakers well (Celtics, Blazers, Thunder). Suffice to say that had the Lakers not had an abysmal shooting performance on Easter Sunday (31/72 FG, 4/18 3PT, 22/30 FT) we’d be looking at a close out game at the Staples Center.

It’s a best two out of three series now, with two games at Staples Center. While all of Laker Land is preparing for Armageddon, the Lakers themselves are surely spouting the Zen Master’s mantra: “Home court advantage has held up, nothing to worry about here”. And while that may be so, Laker fans are still left wondering if this team can string together some hoops, and maybe, just maybe, some wins.

- Mark Slattery Writer

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