The lone element that made the Lakers’ horrific performances somewhat watchable has become as ugly as the team’s play.
Nick Young’s highlight reels and infectious smile have suddenly evaporated. Instead, Young has conceded frustration as he’s labored through a five-game slump where most of his shots clank off the rim instead of dropping into the basket. During that time, Young has averaged 16.2 points albeit on only a 37.6 percent clip.
“Just a little shooting slump,” Young said. “Now I know they’re going to key on me every night. I have to be more prepared for that. I’m going to get the best defenders. I’m going to get double teamed a little bit.”
Young usually thrived in those situations, remaining one of the lone players on the Lakers roster with the ability to create their own shot. In the Lakers’ 102-100 overtime loss Jan. 20 to Chicago, Young posted a season-high 31 points on 11-of-23 shooting. Just a day earlier, Young dropped 29 points on 7-of-13 shooting in the Lakers’ win in Toronto.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni rightfully pointed out that the team’s persistent struggles stem more in its defense. The Lakers have conceded over 100 points in 14 consecutive games. But with the team offering no sign that its defensive issues will ever go away, Young’s acrobatic scoring act has at least given the Lakers a fighting chance to stay competitive or squeak out wins.
“We have to get Nick back on track. His scoring is something we need. His unpredictability is important to what we do,” D’Antoni said. “That’s the biggest thing we’ve missed. We have to get him to score the buckets that are tough to get. Usually in the game, you’ll hit moments where you need guys to hit some baskets. He’s the guy to do it.”
Both D’Antoni and Young suggest that has become a more difficult task with the season-wide accumulation of heavy minutes (31 in the past two months) and an injury-ravaged roster has caught up to him. The Lakers could receive some release with the return of Steve Nash and Steve Blake Tuesday vs. Minnesota. But as the Lakers learned this season, all injury reports remain fluid. Pau Gasol also could learn today after receiving an MRI exam that he’ll need to sit out because of an aggravated groin.
Such a dynamic only puts more pressure on Young to restore his scoring load as quickly as he launches one of his acrobatic jumpers.
“I have no complaints,” Young said. “I love being on there on the court. It’s one of thse things where Im missing a lot of easy shots and easy layups.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org