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Lakers look great on paper, but will it translate to court?

Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash could take Lakers all the way, but uneven chemistry, injuries, weak defense and freak occurrences (see spike strips) could make things go wrong.

September 30, 2012|By Ben Bolch
  • Lakers stars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol (16) could have plenty of reasons to smile this season with the addition of point guard Steve Nash and center Dwight Howard.
Lakers stars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol (16) could have plenty of reasons… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

The Lakers have four starters who could go straight from Staples Center to Springfield, Mass.

Their bench is no longer kiddie-pool deep.

Even their coaching staff underwent a massive off-season upgrade.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, actually …

Stuff happens, and it's not always Dwight Howard swatting shots, Steve Nash finding open teammates or Kobe Bryant making game-winning jumpers.

PHOTOS: Newest Lakers are introduced during Media Day

Chemistry concerns, defensive deficiencies and parking lot spike strips are among the factors that could combine to deny the Lakers the championship that a sea of purple and gold fans are expecting this season.

Issue No. 1: How is this going to work, exactly, with four superstars and one ball?

All this talk about Bryant happily deferring to his teammates as the fourth-leading scorer on the U.S. Olympic team conveniently overlooks the fact that he was also the fourth-best player.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are still his franchise, and he's going to want the ball late in close games.

How that goes over with Howard will go a long way toward determining whether the duo becomes fast friends or suffers through a repeat of Bryant's final fractious years alongside Shaquille O'Neal.

Before Howard can show he's got Bryant's back, he must address his own posterior.

The Lakers appear to be taking a conservative approach with Howard's recovery from back surgery, meaning he could sit out a chunk of early-season games. Any setbacks could deprive the team of its best defender and low-post scorer for a more significant stretch.

Injuries could cause season-long unease for a team whose primary starters average 32 years old. It's not exactly a spry bunch, with Bryant's knees and Nash's joints having absorbed more pounding over their careers than a runway at LAX.

And then there's freak mishaps, such as backup point guard Steve Blake's recent encounter with a Manhattan Beach parking lot spike strip. Who knew that walking barefoot near the beach could be such a bad idea?

Even fully intact, these Lakers aren't foolproof. Nash and top reserve Antawn Jamison, for instance, each have glaring limitations.

"They're both horrific defensive players for their positions," said one former NBA coach who did not want to be identified because of the sensitive nature of his comments.

The Lakers could always funnel top opposing scorers toward Howard, though that could lead to foul problems for the NBA's top rim protector.

Howard is certainly someone the Lakers don't want to see on the free-throw line late in games. A career 58.8% foul shooter whose accuracy inexplicably dipped to 49.1% last season, Howard could cost his team victories or force it to take him off the court on offensive possessions in the final minutes of close games.

Coach Mike Brown also must figure out a way to integrate lane cloggers Pau Gasol and Howard into a Princeton-style offense that will be shepherded by new assistant coach Eddie Jordan. You don't want players executing back cuts knocked unconscious running into a 7-footer along the baseline.

As intriguing as the possibilities are with Nash running the pick and roll, he's not exactly surrounded by top-flight outside shooters as he was in Phoenix. The Lakers made 32.2% of their three-pointers last season, 26th worst in the league.

Newcomer Jodie Meeks (career accuracy: 37.1%) should help, and you have to like the ball's chances to go in the basket every time Nash hoists a shot, but Bryant (30.3% on three-pointers last season), Metta World Peace (29.6%) and Gasol (25.9%) might want to exhibit a little more restraint.

Practicing moderation could be difficult for a team that expects to go all the way.

What could possibly go wrong?

Media day is Monday and practice begins Tuesday. We'll find out soon enough.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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