Despite a busy summer that saw them bring in both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the Los Angeles Lakers have struggled to start the season. The team's record is currently 6-7 and they have yet to win a game on the road.
Oddly enough, some people are still comparing this year's team to the 2011-12 Miami Heat, and Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com was quick to chime in with his two cents. Yes, the Heat got off to a 9-8 start that season, but Markazi is right. That team responded with a 12-game winning streak and went on to make the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Dallas Mavericks.
Mike D'Antoni does indeed have the Lakers looking like a better team since taking over as head coach on November 12, but to say that his team can right the ship enough to make this year's NBA Finals is a bit of a stretch.
Yes, the Lakers do have a championship-caliber roster, but are still much different in comparison to the Heat team that took the NBA by storm two seasons ago.
First of all, the Miami Heat were lucky enough to have LeBron James that season. He is the best all-around player in the NBA, and his versatility is going to turn any team he plays for into an instant contender. In his first year with the Heat, he averaged 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and seven assists per game.
The Lakers, unfortunately, do not have a player like that on their team. Their best distributor is point guard Steve Nash, and he has not played since suffering a non-displaced fracture in his leg on October 31.
As we saw with the D'Antoni-coached New York Knicks over the first half of last season, the lack of a viable point guard in his system (pre-Jeremy Lin, that is) is enough to make the entire house fall down.
Kobe Bryant is the team's best player, but he is going to do little more than score a lot of points and play some lockdown defense. In terms of distributing the ball, though, he has looked better in this area since Nash's injury. He isn't going to give up being the go-to guy so easily, but at the same time is the only one buying into D'Antoni's game and ready to compete for a ring.
This is the complete opposite approach of Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade, who is always willing to dish the ball to a teammate and play an unselfish game. He has averaged 6.2 assists per game for his career, and only puts the team on his back as necessary. That isn't to say that he is more willing to be a 2nd banana, as he kept the Heat in the 2011 Finals when James opted to not demand the ball, but he is still more willing to distribute the ball.
Bryant, on the other hand, looks to take over almost automatically.
All player comparisons aside, the Lakers aren't going to take the same path as the 2011 Miami Heat for one important reason: team chemistry. The season is barely a month old, and players are already complaining about their role in D'Antoni's system. Forward Pau Gasol has already stated he wants more playing time in the low post, but his greatest strengths lie outside the paint and D'Antoni realizes that, having benched Gasol in the team's game against Memphis Friday night.
Throw in Kobe Bryant's seemingly constant need to be the one with the most points at the end of the night, and it's a wonder that the Lakers have indeed played so well in D'Antoni's run-and-gun game.
More importantly, look at the coaching advantage the Heat had going into the 2011 NBA Finals. Head coach Erik Spoelstra had already been the coach in South Beach for two seasons prior to the formation of the Big Three, so it was just a matter of slightly adjusting the offense he had already built around Wade.
D'Antoni is at a great disadvantage in this department. He took over the Lakers two weeks into the season following a slow start by the team, and did not have the luxury of a training camp or preseason with the players so that he could slowly incorporate his run and gun game. Instead, he had to take a team that had spent the last two and a half months playing the slow-paced Princeton offense and instantly turn them into a fast-paced squad.
It's not as though the Lakers had to make a big turnaround in a short amount of time, like they would have had to if D'Antoni came along midseason, for example. Still, it's quite an adjustment and it will take time to get right.
That isn't to say that the Lakers won't make the playoffs at all this season. They are a deep and talented team, and will only get better once Nash returns from his injury.
Despite that, this team is nowhere near cohesive enough to make a run to the NBA Finals. Too many underlying issues exist, and it's going to take more than the remainder of the season for D'Antoni to fix them.
Thus, while this year's Lakers might be similar to the 2011 Heat in some regards, they are still not going to take the same path as that team due to their lacking some important keys, from a versatile star to on-court harmony.
They could very well make the Finals someday, but it's just not going to be this season.