Two weeks into the season, and the Lakers are fielding various lineup combinations with the same frequency most teams shuffle during training camp.
In what could mark the team’s sixth different combination, coach Mike D’Antoni said it’s “definitely a possibility” he will make a starting lineup switch when the Lakers (3-5) host the New Orleans Pelicans (3-4) Tuesday at Staples Center.
“We have to find our identity, D’Antoni said. “We don’t play slow or fast. We don’t do anything with a purpose.”
The Lakers have tried varying combinations for varying reasons. Shawne Williams played at power forward for the first five games because of D’Antoni’s preference to have a so-called stretch four that can space the floor and hit outside shots. D’Antoni featured a bigger lineup for the past three games featuring Chris Kaman and Pau Gasol to match with opposing team’s bigger frontlines. D’Antoni has shuffled Nick Young and Xavier Henry at small forward as the two has fought shooting inconsistencies. Steve Nash also sat out two games on the second night of back-to-back contests as part of the Lakers’ season-long strategy in preserving the 39-year-old guard’s body.
Should the results Nash’s visit with a back specialist today require him to miss Tuesday’s game and perhaps beyond, D’Antoni said Jodie Meeks would start at shooting guard while Steve Blake slides over at point guard. Meeks has averaged a team-leading 12.8 points on 50.7 percent shooting from the field and 45.9 percent from three-point range. Blake has provided a steady playmaking presence and an occasional outside shooting touch, averaging 10 points on 38.9 percent shooting and a 48.8 percent clip from the perimeter. Blake also made a game-winning three-pointer last week in the Lakers’ win over Houston.
Beyond that, D’Antoni wouldn’t divulge what his lineup would entail. But his analysis on both the small and big lineups offers a clear signal on where he’s leaning.
What has he learned about the Lakers’ big lineup?
“We’re a little slow,” D’Antoni.
That unit also allowed Pelicans forward Anthony Davis last week to post a career-high 32 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks. But the Lakers’ small lineup featured Williams averaging only four points on 34.4 percent shooting.
“We’re quicker and faster and can open the floor up for guys like Pau and Blake and different guys,” D’Antoni said. “It seems to be a better flow.”
Gasol fears D’Antoni’s indecision will only lead to no decision.
“You can’t second guess yourself. You have to make up your mind now and go with what you think is best and work from it and build on what we have,” said Gasol, who has only averaged 11.9 points on 36 percent shooting and 10.8 rebounds. “If we continue to go back and forth, back and forth, we’re never going to establish it and develop it at its full potential. That;s something the coaching staff also needs to be aware of.”
Gasol prefers a bigger lineup, obviously.
“I know the game is developing toward going smaller,” Gasol said. “But I still like the way we started with a bigger lineup and then adjust as we go along. If we need to speed up the tempo, we’re falling behind or we believe this matchup will help us better, then we should already know that pre-game wise. That’s part of the strategy. We don’t have to improvise and go with the flow or the feel of the game too much. That gives you a little inconsistency and not building stability.”
D’Antoni conceded that point. That’s why he mostly blamed his shuffling rotations as a huge reason why the Lakers have ranked nearly last in several defensive categories, including 28th in total defense (106.5), 22nd in opponent shooting percentage (46.4 percent), opponent three-point field-goal percentage (40.7 percent) and 27th in fast-break points allowed (18.4).
“But we could play better while we’re doing this,” D’Antoni said of his evolving rotations. “We can win a lot of games. I’m not at that point. But we have to get it settled as soon as we can.”
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