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Even with Steve Nash, Will Lakers Make the Playoffs?

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 16:  Injured point guard Steve Nash #10 of the Los Angeles Lakers follows the game from the bench against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center on November 16, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2012

Before the 2012-13 season commenced, astute Lakers fans wouldn't have been especially shocked if you told them Steve Nash would miss a chunk of action here or there.

They were to expect a slow start even, what with the requisite "gelling" period and Dwight Howard's recovery from season-ending back surgery.

But, folding against the Utah Jazz on the heels of recent losses to Oklahoma City, Houston and—gasp—Orlando, that wasn't what anyone had in mind. This was a new low in a series of lows (via Hardwood Paroxysm):

That was not a good loss for the Lakers. San Antonio was. The rest have been crap.

—Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 10, 2012

Since a Nov. 24 meltdown at the hands of the lowly Sacramento Kings, these Lakers have backslid on any progress made through the course of Mike Brown's training camp.

Mike D'Antoni's tenure is off to a rough start, and messianic anticipation of the Steve Nash Effect is more about optics than solving the Lakers' very real problems.

Problems that both the de facto and de jure head coaches understand very well (via Lakers reporter Mike Trudell):

Both D'Antoni & Kobe point to lack of transition D, fast break points killing LAL. Utah has done it in all 4 matchups this season (2 pre).

— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) December 10, 2012

Of course, the Lakers' transition defense isn't the only concern. It wasn't the only reason six Jazz players scored in double figures en route to the team's 117 points.

Big men Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter combined for 52 points and 26 rebounds. Each managed to outscore Dwight Howard's 11 points. 

Los Angeles' team defense is broken—rotations are late, and energy is scarce. It's a problem that neither Mike D'Antoni nor Steve Nash will solve.

And its a problem that makes teams like the Jazz look like D'Antoni's old Phoenix Suns. The Lakers look a bit like those Suns too, just in all the wrong ways. When L.A. cashes in on 15-28 three-point attempts and still loses to Utah, you know we're dealing with more than a slow start.

Even if Steve Nash could have catapulted the Lakers to more than 117 points with his pick-and-roll genius alone, his ability to correct a deep-seated defensive crisis is somewhere between suspect and laughable.

Kobe Bryant knows it (via LakersNation.com's Serena Winters):

Post-game Kobe says the same thing we've all been saying....that Steve Nash isn't going to fix the defense.

— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) December 10, 2012

So does that Bill Walton impostor (via Not Bill Walton):

NBA scouts think Steve Nash will be great for Lakers, comparing him to Peyton Manning. Fair comparison, since neither plays defense.

— Not Bill Walton (@NotBillWalton) December 9, 2012

Over the last two seasons, Nash saw his win share drop from 8.0 to 5.9, a far cry from the 12-plus wins he accounted for in his MVP prime (2005-07). During that same span, his average plus-minus contribution per 48 minutes dropped from an added 5.5 points to just 4.3.

In short, there's no question Nash will help, but it won't be MVP-style help.

Advanced metrics won't tell the whole story, especially with a player whose leadership can have a force-multiplying effect.

But the facts are sobering, even with reinforcements on the way.

21 games into the season, the Lakers are the 11th seed in the Western Conference. The only teams in said conference with inferior records are the Trail Blazers, Kings, Suns and Hornets.

And while Nash will extricate the organization from the netherworld of NBA standings, it's not as if the Lakers are the only club cast to the fringes of playoff contention by injury.

Just ask the Dallas Mavericks, currently seventh in the West despite playing without Dirk Nowitzki and working to integrate newcomers like O.J. Mayo and Chris Kaman.

The Minnesota Timberwolves might have something to say about those excuses, too. They'd be the eighth seed in the West if the playoffs started today, and they got there without Ricky Rubio and—for the most part—without Kevin Love.

The Golden State Warriors are 4.5 games ahead of the Lakers while Andrew Bogut has played sparingly in all of four games.

The Lakers will be better come March, but so will the Mavs, TWolves and Warriors.

Chalking L.A.'s struggles up to this, Nash and the other thing just isn't good enough for this team. The Lakers brass can't fire a coach in red-alert mode only to turn around and preach patience.

Mike Brown must be wondering where that kind of optimism was five games into the season.

Jarrod Rudolph is too:

Didn't the @lakers fire Mike Brown for the same results D'Antoni is giving them? I know they need time, but they should be a lot better.

— Jarrod N Rudolph (@JRudolphSports) December 10, 2012

A healthy Lakers roster will make the playoffs. 

Their chances to make something of that opportunity, however, depend on fixes that recovering, aging, borderline All-Stars won't make. Those chances depend on a roster of professional athletes doing their jobs and doing the little things TMZ won't ask them about over the summer.

If Steve Nash can make that happen, the Lakers might as well make him the coach.

No, really. 

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