The Los Angeles Lakers head into the 2013-14 season with lowered expectations among sports media due in part to the departure of center Dwight Howard and an aging set core players in Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol.
Adding to this, all three star players are recovering from surgery or an injury to return to the court this season with Bryant rehabbing from torn left Achilles surgery, Gasol from an operation on both knees to treat his tendonitis, and Nash working his way back from a hip injury. There is also the belief that with this current roster, missing the playoffs may be a reality. This presumably puts the Lakers in the position of an underdog, which is a label that is unfamiliar to the franchise and fan base but one they must accept and even embrace.
So without further ado, here are three ways they can embrace the role of an underdog:
There will be no lack of material to motivate this team with things like ESPN releasing their NBA rankings last Wednesday which has the Lakers as the 12th best team in the West
with a projected 36-46 record. There is nothing more motivating than people doubting what you can do, just ask Kobe, who is currently rehabbing his way back from an injury that many players never return from to the same high level of play
Los Angeles must enter the season with the mindset that they are better than what the doubters say they are. They must look at the skepticism of their ability to be a contending team this season as a challenge and another goal for them. The Lakers, led by an even more motivated Bryant will be hard-pressed to prove skeptics wrong, and this will only add fuel to the fire and push the team to greater success.
2. Play pressure-free
One thing is for certain for the Lakers this upcoming season, and that is there will not be a cloud of high expectations hanging over them as there was last year. They have the opportunity to focus on just playing basketball with the Dwight Howard sideshow now out of town. The offense should flow more fluidly with the absence of Howard, who was unwilling to accept a lesser role in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive scheme and run the pick-and-roll with Nash.
The team can now operate in effective offense with Gasol sliding to the center, which gives them a player who can efficiency work in the low post, has decent passing skills and a solid mid-range game. In other words, this team will be a much more competitive due to having no more distractions and can place their focus on winning alone.
3. Be angry
The Lakers are now looking up to other teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzles, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets and possibly even the Houston Rockets. With this mind, the Lakers should play with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. In many situations similar to this it can pull a team closer together.
They must have the mentality that is “us against the world.” That will only bring this team closer together in unity, because it’s just those 15 players in the locker room who are out trying to prove doubters wrong. This will subsequently build stronger chemistry, and it has been proven over time that a team with great chemistry is one that performs better.
With their new underdog label, it will make for a more focused and united team capable of exceeding the low expectations. Underdogs are expected to not do much, but with a team led by three star players in Bryant, Gasol, and Nash excelling in this new role may not be that lofty of a task.
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Bob Garcia is a sports journalist from Southern California. He was a reporter for the award-winning newspaper, The Daily Sundial, at California State University, Northridge. You can follow him on Twitter, @BGarcia90