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One Game At A Time

Proud Lakers stuck in unfamiliar mud

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DR. RICKY Choa at Cardinal Santos Hospital in Greenhills, San Juan, looks after my midlife health concerns: the usual blood sugar, cholesterol and uric acid levels that one has to be concerned with after years of stress and mindless eating. His help keeps my blood chemistry in check but his bigger worry right now has nothing to do with me.

“You haven’t written about my Lakers,” he says as we completed my yearend check-up recently.

Choa is a knowledgeable sports fan who can talk boxing and basketball at length. When I visit him, I try to be the first caller so that there’s time to talk sports, long before his other patients line up.

This is perhaps not the best time to catch up with the popular team as they are mired near the bottom of the Western Conference with only 10 wins in 24 games. A recent 102-96 win against the Washington Wizards snapped a four-game skid, coming after a horrendous loss to the rampaging New York Knicks.

It doesn’t help LA that Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are in civvies nursing injuries. The Lakers are a team too reliant on Kobe Bryant, who must not only score but lead the team as well as a point guard and as motivator.

No matter how brilliant Bryant is, NBA defenses will find a way to shut down his less productive teammates. Bryant is thus forced to work double time and he is not exactly a spring chicken anymore.

Two things must be considered in evaluating the dire straits the Lakers are in right now. First, the potential of the Bryant-Nash-Gasol and Dwight Howard unit has not been seen or felt yet because of the injuries that have happened to Nash first and then to Gasol.

To get dividends out of this unit, even if the members are not exactly in the prime of their careers, is for them to have time to play together in actual game situations. They have never really had the chance to do this for a long stretch.

The great combinations of recent vintage also took time to click: LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade at Miami and Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce at Boston needed games and bonding time to get their acts together.

The current Lakers concoction, although a box-office lure and a potentially strong basketball unit, hasn’t had the benefit of time.

Second, coach Mike D’Antoni joined the team when it was already reeling and did not have any preseason camp to put in his system. It was similar to jumping on a train wreck that was about to happen.

D’Antoni has had success with the Phoenix Suns and the Knicks with a run-and-gun, three-point shooting approach. Those are teams he had time to work with before the games began.

His reputation as a winner and conductor of exciting basketball suited to the Lakers Hollywood context helped secure the call slip for this job. But he can’t be expected to be a surgeon that can easily nip the problem in the bud by just taking out what ails the team.

He will need time and a healthy bunch of reliables, especially Nash, to turn things around at LA.

This is what Lakers fans like Dr. Choa are hoping to happen before the season runs out of games and the team is unable to unloosen itself from the mud it is in at the bottom of the team standings.


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