Here’s the likely starting five for the Lakers against Utah on Friday: Kendall Marshall, Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Pau Gasol and Robert Sacre.
Before the 2013-14 season, there was absolutely no way to forecast such a line up for Mike D’Antoni’s squad, but with a plethora of injuries wreaking havoc on the roster, that’s how things look for a team on a six-game losing streak after a relatively impressive 13-13 start.
The “Games Missed” list is borderline ridiculous with only 32 played thus far:
Kobe Bryant: 26
Steve Nash: 26
Steve Blake: 11
Jordan Farmar: 10
Chris Kaman: 5
Pau Gasol: 3
Wesley Johnson: 1
Xavier Henry: 1
More problematically, all but three of those players – Kaman, Gasol and Johnson* – remain on the shelf, ranging from Henry’s re-evaluation at the end of next week from a knee strain to Bryant being out at least until the end of the month with his knee fracture.
*Johnson may return to the starting line up with Young heading back to the bench depending upon how he feels on Friday after missing Tuesday’s game and Thursday’s practice with gastroenteritis.
Furthermore, the Bryant-Nash-Farmar-Blake-Henry group happen to make up the team’s five best perimeter playmakers, and their collective absence has really stalled what’s now the 23rd ranked offense in the NBA in terms of efficiency. D’Antoni’s been pleased with the effort all season, but a lack of perimeter playmaking is difficult to overcome in the NBA.
“Yeah, we’re getting effort,” said D’Antoni after Thursday’s practice. “It’s hard to sustain it sometimes because the offense is shaky and we don’t have the swagger we had. I don’t think you should ever question these guys’ hearts or wants. That’s not the problem this year.”
Captain Obvious can tell us that injuries have been the problem. That’s why Marshall — who was cut by Washington after a two-year stint in Phoenix as the No. 13 overall pick in 2012 — now has the keys to D’Antoni’s car. A 6–4 point guard out of North Carolina, Marshall was most recently starring in the D–League for the Delaware 87ers, averaging 19.4 points, 9.6 assists and 4.7 boards in seven games.
After playing a total of 10 minutes in his first six games in Los Angeles, Marshall filled in for the ailing Farmar in 45 total minutes in losses to Philadelphia and Milwaukee, hitting 7 of 12 field goals (4 of 7 three-pointers) for 18 points with 10 assists and four turnovers.
With Blake at least three weeks away, Farmar four and Nash’s return unknown, Marshall has the job through the coming stretch of 10 of the next 15 games on the road. He’ll at least have a reliable post presence on offense in Gasol, who’s been feeling better the last two days after missing three of five games with an upper respiratory infection.
Gasol’s trying to stay positive amidst the acknowledgement that “everything is far from ideal right now,” detailing how the team has to think.
“It takes a big group effort, really coming in with a special and positive mindset, pulling each other out and helping each other out, and having great energy and focus on the game and understanding we’re shorthanded,” he said. “We still have five guys out there on the floor playing basketball. If we play together, we play with intensity and energy, we can make things happen and have good games.”
What L.A. seems to have lost during the six-game losing streak that they relied upon early in the season is a certain swagger and hopefulness, a unification behind injuries with the expectation that players were coming back soon to help, and none more so than Kobe Bryant. But with Bryant going down in Memphis on Dec. 17 and given a six-week healing period, the swagger has departed as the injury list has only grown.
D’Antoni’s mission is to simply keep fighting through the difficulty with the players who are on the floor, to continue searching for a spark.
“We’re going to do everything we can to win every game and every second,” he concluded. “That’s our mindset and that’s what it has to be. You can’t control other things like injuries. Our job is to win. We’re not doing that right now and it needs to start tomorrow night.”