It might be improper to quote him in light of recent events, but Phil Jackson once said that there’s a lot more to winning championships than just talent and hard work. He said there’s a bit of luck that comes with it as well. In short, various circumstances have to intersect for a team to win it all in the end. Things like injuries, especially for regular rotation players, for example, provide a great deal of influence on a team’s performance. On the one hand, it can open up opportunities for little-used players to step up and contribute, perhaps earning them playing time even when injuries to teammates have subsided. On the other hand, injuries to major players can halt a team’s progress with the uncertainty and unfamiliarity that follows.
This season, still early by all accounts (just 12 games in), the Lakers have been faced with some negative situations (fired head coach, “shunned” hall-of-famer/championship proven coach, injuries to their primary point guards), but they’ve also encountered many positive circumstances (efficient play from Kobe Bryant, the rise of Metta World Peace, the 1-2 punch of big men, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, a new and respected head coach). For reasons known only by a higher power, the Lakers haven’t been able to align their positive and negative circumstances to produce a consistent string of efficiency.
One night, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard are punishing the Nets with a 40-point, 26-rebound combined effort. Tonight, neither of them scored or rebounded in double figures.
For three games in a row, the Lakers averaged just over 11 turnovers per game. In the last two losses, they committed a combined 38 turnovers.
All season, the Laker bench has been the most glaring downside to the team. Tonight, they not only scored the most they have all season (30 points), but they were also the reason the Lakers even managed to stay competitive in this game.
In their fourth road loss, the Lakers have been reminded (again), that they have a lot of work to do in order to push that championship journey forward.
• Darius Morris – If the absence of Steve Nash and Steve Blake has done anything, it’s provided an opportunity for the second year to build up his confidence where it matters most – on the floor in game time. Every minute that Morris has been given to play, he has not taken in vain. Each game he becomes more knowledgeable of his responsibilities as a point guard on this team. He appears more confident in his game on both ends of the court. Early in tonight’s contest, he went coast-to-coast to score on a layup in transition. And in the following possession, he stole the ball and ran back down the floor for another layup. In the second quarter, he received a pass from Kobe Bryant and scored on a three to cut a 10-point deficit to seven. His playing time will decrease when Nash and Blake return, but now he’s shown the coaching staff what he can do. He finished with nine points on 4-6.
• Antawn Jamison and Company– It only took 12 games for Jodie Meeks to get going and apparently, it’s taken the former
Carolina Tar Heel just 13. In his most productive game as a Laker, Jamison produced 16 points on 7-11 from the field (including a pair of threes), seven rebounds, an assist, block and committed just a single turnover in almost 27 minutes of play. Chosen to play late in the game over the ineffective Pau Gasol, Jamison was also tasked to guard Zach Randolph and used every foul to make it difficult for the forward to produce.
The Laker bench produced 30 points for the night and were responsible for cleaning up the mess they were left by the starters in the second quarter. Behind by 16 points, Jamison and Chris Duhon, along with Metta World Peace, rattled off a 13-2 run that cut the lead to just three points. Midway through the final quarter, with the Lakers behind by thirteen points, Jodie Meeks hit back-to-back threes, followed by another from Duhon, which cut the lead to just six points and forced Memphis to take a timeout. It’s funny to think how much better off the Lakers might’ve been had the starters not returned in either the second or fourth quarters. +/- for the night: Duhon +7, Jamison +10, Meeks +12. Just sayin’.
• Metta World Peace – Last season, Kobe Bryant cited MWP as the only teammate who he can depend on to be ready for every game, and this season it has showcased more than ever. MWP is averaging 13.4 ppg this season. Tonight he chipped in 16 points on 5-9, including a pair from downtown. He also had three rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals.
• Downtown – The Lakers went 12-27 from three tonight, and the game might’ve fallen in the Memphis’ favor in a big way, had it not been for the threeball. It’s not the Lakers’ strength, but it’s good to know they’ve got sharpshooters when they need it.
• Undynamic Duo – One off night for the Laker big men is one thing, but two consecutive games? That’ll rack up losses, and quickly. For the second game in a row, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol did next to nothing to help attain a win. They combined for just 13 points on 5-15 from the field, eight rebounds (8 between the pair of them!), four assists and eight turnovers. Howard’s four blocks aside, he didn’t do much else. The Grizzlies outrebounded the Lakers 39-28. Gasol (benched for the entire fourth quarter, by the way) didn’t appear engaged and Howard couldn’t keep the ball in his hands. Gasol has been working farther from the hoop with Howard occupying the inside, but in the Lakers’ six wins, that didn’t appear to be a problem as he still found ways to score.
• Points in the Paint – 40-24 in favor of Memphis. For the second game in a row, the Lakers, with their two All-Star frontcourt and efficient post-player in Kobe Bryant, didn’t compete for more than 24 points inside?
• Defense – Wide-open layups – the Lakers handed them out tonight in what seemed like bushels. There was one possession where Mike Conley essentially stroll-dribbled to the hoop with every player in a purple jersey just watching him score. Like in Wednesday’s game, the Lakers came out of the half defensively worse than when they went into the locker rooms after 24 minutes of play. Memphis shot 49% in the first two quarters, and then followed it up with a 52% effort in the third and fourth quarters. The Lakers did manage to get stops in the second and fourth quarters, when they cut the deficit down, but couldn’t sustain the effort and eventually suffered because of it.
• Turnovers – There must’ve been some turkey grease on those basketballs because the Lakers could not hold on to the rock. To be fair, the Grizzlies committed 17 turnovers to the Lakers’ 18, and each team gave away over twenty points because of their carelessness, but two wrongs don’t make a right, and had the Lakers been more mindful, they might’ve taken advantage of Memphis’ turnovers instead.
Kobe Bryant headed straight to the locker room while the game clock ran down. It’s not a secret that he hates to lose, and despite a poor shooting night for him, his effort was undoubtedly there (7-23 from the field but 13-14 from the free throw line). It’s 13 games into the season, and he’s still waiting for those championship lines to intersect. No one predicted that this season would be easy for the Lakers, but why has it had to be so hard? It’s cliché to say it, but only time will tell when this team will reach their full potential. With Steve Nash’s return a mystery, Steve Blake’s participation a few games a way, and the questionable efforts of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol of late, this team is a slave to time.