The win in Brooklyn the other night, without Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace, was quite impressive. With both back in the lineup, there should not have been a problem for the Lakers to play a competitive game against their fierce rivals, the Boston Celtics; especially with Rajon Rondo gone for the rest of the season. At least in theory.
The Celtics started off hot, with Paul Pierce hitting his step-backs. Dwight Howard managed to get Kevin Garnett in foul trouble less than three minutes into the game when he picked up two quick fouls. It really didn’t matter much,however, because Howard went 1/6 from the free throw line and took only eight shots in nearly 29 minutes of playing time, despite Boston lacking a true center. It was sad seeing the Celtics play at a faster pace than the Lakers without Rondo leading them on the floor. They moved the ball and they were hit their shots – it was that simple.
In the first half, the Lakers played some very slow basketball, and allowed the Celtics to score where and whenever the pleased. The score was 44-58 at the break. As we’ve heard many times with this Lakers team, offense alone can’t always win games. Most times, it all starts on the defensive side of the floor.
The second half wasn’t much different from the first. Kobe Bryant hit some tough fade aways, but other than tha,t the Lakers played sloppy basketball and their defense was just terrible. After Dwight got his fourth personal foul, the Lakers’ lineup shrinked even more than it already was, forcing Antawn Jamison into the center position.
The Celtics’ ball movement was evident in the box score – six players scored in double figures. The Celtics can play like this every night, yes, but the Laker defense didn’t help. It was, in a word, slow.
On the offensive end, it sometimes looked like they didn’t want to win this game. The ball movement that had won them six of the last seven games going into tonight’s contest, was gone. They combined for only 16 assissts. Steve Nash had just five dimes and Kobe went from double-digit assist games to zero tonight. The Celtics had 25 assists in all.
Shot selection was also bad. They attempted 23 shots from the 3 point line and converted only five. Bryant had a solid night (27 points, 9-15 from the field, 7 rebounds), but besides him there wasn’t a Laker who could match the Celtics on this night, when almost everything was going their way. In one play, Bryant tried to get the ball to Steve Blake, and Avery Bradley stole it and scored on an easy lay-up. Again with the carelessness that had plagued them earlier in the season.
Tonight’s loss perpetuates the Lakers’ slowly diminishing hope of making the playoffs. They are now 23-27 and they have a lot of work to do until Sunday when they face the Heat. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will be ready to embarrass them on their home floor.
Tonight should be forgotten, move on. It’s bad enough having to adjust to Pau Gasol being out for the next 6-8 weeks. Bryant still has to urge Howard to play with a sense of urgency? The clock is ticking and the playoffs are closer than it seems. Now they stand at 4 wins behind the 8th seeded Houston Rockets, and there’s no hope until they start playing defense and moving the basketball like they’ve done in those 23 wins.
We have seen them win against the best teams, but they lack consistency. There are two games left on their road trip – Charlotte and Miami. The Bobcats shouldn’t be a problem, but who knows, as we’ve seen it all this season. Miami will be interesting. Dwight Howard’s commitment, ball movement and defense are going to be the keys on Sunday, as well as tomorrow. The Heat don’t have a big man like Dwight, and they’ve suffered at the hands of teams who outsize them. To have a chance at winning, the Lakers have to take advantage of that.