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L.A. Lakers A Mess As NBA's All-Star Break Approaches


Turn on the TV, listen to sports radio, check the Web, even pick up one of those old-fashioned sports pages I think they're called, and you're sure to find an opinion about the Los Angeles Lakers. With the addition of big man Dwight Howard and the great point guard Steve Nash, the Lakers were billed as the new NBA super team at the beginning of the season. But now, as the All-Star break approaches, it is clear the team is a mess. NPR's Mike Pesca joins us now to talk about the Lakers and some of the other surprises of the pro basketball season. Hi, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks. I think Laker outrage and glee is keeping some of those sports pages a-printing.

SIEGEL: The Lakers, they've been close to awful this season. What's going on?

PESCA: They have been and there was a time it looked like they were going to struggle to respectability. Now the struggle will be to make the playoffs. And statistically speaking, it probably won't happen. They will be on the outside looking in. And this is a shocking development because in the off-season they, an already team that's stocked with a lot of talent signed Steve Nash, very good point guard, former couple-time MVP, and Dwight Howard.

Now Dwight Howard is a 7-foot center who plays like a pogo stick. And when the pogo stick's 7 feet tall, he should be blocking every shot. He should be making such a huge difference on defense but he isn't. I think a lot of the analysis of why the Lakers have gone wrong is correct in that it talks about the personalities involved and players not buying into a system. But I think the health of Dwight Howard also has a big role.

This was a team that was going to get by on having just so much star power, it will win out over the fact that a lot of these guys actually play the same position. But that's clearly not going to happen. It seems like their coach, Mike D'Antoni, ill-suited to the roster. I think he's in a mess. I think I would agree with that word.

SIEGEL: Go along with that, okay.

PESCA: Yeah.

SIEGEL: All right. So the Lakers are a mess and may not even make the playoffs. Their famous rivals, the Boston Celtics, actually aren't looking much better. What's their problem?

PESCA: Yeah, they're 20 and 22 right now and if the playoffs started today, people would be surprised but the Celtics would be out of the playoffs. And so I think what happened with them is it's not so much that they're excellent core of stars is aging, two-thirds of them are, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, they're 35 and 36 years old, which qualifies you to be president, but not an NBA All-Star, although Garnett is.

They're actually pretty good for guys who are getting up there in age. They're giving you, like, an A minus, B plus performance. And Rajon Rondo, their point guard, has added some dimension to his offensive game. He's not so great at defense, but it's everyone else. It's everyone else on the Celtics, other than their rookie, Jared Sullinger. They are just - their role players are not playing the roles that they need to play.

They can't shoot. They can't fill out the roster with any sort of aplomb that the Celtics are going to need 'cause their aging stars are playing fewer minutes and that's why it's a below 500 team.

SIEGEL: Well, changing coasts once again here, Los Angeles does have a playoff contender this year. It's the Clippers, who they were expected to be good but this good?

PESCA: Yeah, a title contender, I'd say. And Chris Paul, their transcendent point guard, is hurt. He has sore knees. They've been on a little bit of a losing streak, but for most of the NBA season, they've had the best record and they look like absolutely legitimate title contenders to go against a team like Oklahoma City or the Miami Heat if it came to it in the finals.

SIEGEL: Well, a season with surprises should be a good season. Tell us about some other surprises in the NBA.

PESCA: Well, one of the surprises is in the smallest market. The Milwaukee Bucks, I just thought I'd pick them because they're an above 500 team. They would be one of these teams making the playoffs and the Celtics wouldn't. They were predicted to have only 37 wins on the year, if you wanted to bet on it in Las Vegas. But they're already 22 and 18 and they fired their coach. They fired Scottie Skiles and replaced him with Jim Boylan.

They're six and two since they did that. And another team that's very surprising, the Brooklyn Nets also fired their coach. They fired Avery Johnson when they were 14 and 14. And at that point, I think the sports cognoscenti chimed in and said, how can you fire Avery Johnson? It's not his fault. Well, it might not have been his fault, but P.J. Carlesimo, who's taken over for Johnson, has helmed the team to a 12 and two record.

So for whatever reason, it turned out to have been a good firing.

SIEGEL: Okay. Now, finally, the New Orleans Hornets are not going to be the Hornets much longer. They're going to be the New Orleans Pelicans?

PESCA: Yeah. And I think that tone of voice was echoed throughout the NBA. But I think Pelicans is a good name. It's not a unique name. I have a database of about five high school teams named the Pelicans and a couple minor league baseball teams. The house of Pelham, a couple of British prime ministers were - their shield is pelicans. I just think it's their logo that's freaking people out because it doesn't show that pelican pouch that they're so famous for.

If you look at all the other pelican logos, they always show the pouch, the head-on shot of the pelican. It looks a little too fierce and not cuddly enough.

SIEGEL: Okay. We'll watch that space. Mike, thank you.

PESCA: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mike Pesca. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.