Josh Newman, SNYNets.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Despite a $100 million payroll and a significant luxury tax bill, the Los Angeles Lakers, at 22-26 overall, are a mess despite employing more than one future Hall of Fame inductee.
It cannot be denied that this team, built to win a title now after acquiring Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to join Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, has underachieved. What also cannot be denied is the Lakers appear to be figuring things out.
After a win at the Detroit Pistons on Sunday afternoon, the Lakers have won five of their last six games to move within three and a half games of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. With that stretch of quality play, the Lakers will head to Brooklyn on Tuesday evening for their first and only meeting this season against the Nets.
The Lakers won the first meeting between the teams, 95-90, back on Nov. 20 in Los Angeles. That game marked the Lakers coaching debut for Mike D'Antoni, who took over Bernie Bickerstaff, who took over on an interim basis after Mike Brown was fired following a 1-4 start.
"They're much more comfortable with the system, they're playing really well, it's still different from game to game because you have games where Dwight played and you've got some other games where he didn't," Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo following practice on Monday. "It's not just that they're playing better recently than they have in a long time, but they're also continuing to improve. It's not like they've plateaued and they're playing as well as they can play."
Howard, who has been the subject of rampant trade speculation with the Nets for the better part of the last 18 months, has dealt with a torn right labrum since January. The five-time All-NBA First Team selection and free agent-to-be this summer sat out wins on Friday at the Minnesota Timberwolves and Sunday at the Pistons.
Howard returned to Los Angeles after aggravating the shoulder during a loss at the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday. He underwent a platelet-rich plasma procedure on Saturday and hopped on a plane that afternoon to Detroit with the hope of playing Sunday. Howard reported stiffness in the shoulder Sunday morning, sat out and his availability for Tuesday is up in the air.
Whether or not Howard can go affects how Carlesimo game-plans for the Lakers. If Howard does play, Gasol will be at power forward. If Howard does not play, Gasol will slide to center and Earl Clark, a Plainfield, New Jersey native and former star at Louisville, would likely slide in at power forward.
Clark is having a career year, averaging 7.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in 25 games. Of those 25 games, Clark has started 12.
"They got 4's who can shoot the ball, whether it's Pau at the elbow or Earl anywhere else," Carlesimo said. "It's not anything you can control. We got ready to play Chicago (on Friday) thinking their bigs were gonna play and their bigs don't play. Dwight changes the game because he's Dwight Howard and the things he brings to the game, in terms of trying to prepare, I don't think you can prepare any differently.
For the Nets, Tuesday will cap a streak of three homes games against elite teams. They fell, 105-85, to the Miami Heat on Wednesday before beating a depleted Bulls team, 93-89, on Friday. That night, the Bulls were missing Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah.
New injuries pop up
Carlesimo reported that second-year reserve guard MarShon Brooks rolled his ankle in practice.
Brooks, who missed three games in early November with a sprained left ankle, emerged from the locker room without a noticeable limp and didn't think it would affect his ability to play on Tuesday.
The Nets announced that C.J. Watson (sprained left ankle) and Jerry Stackhouse (stiff neck) are both game-time decisions.
After being limited in practice on Sunday thanks to a sprained right ankle suffered late in the second quarter against the Bulls on Friday, Deron Williams went full on Monday.
Josh Newman is SNYNets.com’s Field Reporter. Follow him on Twitter for up to the minute news and banter on all things related to the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA