There are two things the Lakers have yet to check off their list in this early season. One – win on the second night of a back-to-back (they are currently 0-3 in such sets thus far); and two – play from behind for the majority of the game and then close out with a win in the end. After a 111-99 loss in Denver, they need to wait a bit longer to do both.
A 16-point deficit was their largest (compared to the 30-point holes they’ve put themselves in, this was nothing), and it happened in their worst quarter (the fourth) where they were outscored by just eight points. Five players still managed to score in double figures, Denver shot just 0.6% better than they did and their 15 turnovers were relatively trivial because they’ve had a 24-turnover game this season. They didn’t play a completely terrible, listless game compared to contests against the Warriors and Timberwolves. They were clearly not as efficient as they were last night against the Pelicans, but they didn’t just get rolled over the entire time like they have in recent games, which makes this loss all the more maddening. They always got close, but could never get over the hump.
Could they have rebounded more? Yes. Could they have put in more effort to score inside and give themselves a chance to shoot more free throws? Definitely. But they didn’t, and 10 games into the season, they’re still searching for some consistency.
Hill-Gasol – For the second game in a row, Mike D’Antoni started Jordan Hill and, in the loss, the energetic player was winning. Hill led the game in rebounds with 15, and in the interim, also managed to score 18 points on 6-11 from the field, and made all six of his free throws. He also blocked three shots and battled with the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov at the rim. He did all this while playing in foul trouble. Pau Gasol, had one of his biggest games in the season, with 25 points on 12-27, 12 rebounds, three assists, and a block. Gasol didn’t shoot with the highest of accuracy, but the fact that he even attempted 27 shots is worth noting. At least he’s being aggressive out there. The 1-5 free throws, however, could use some work, especially the number of attempts.
Steve Blake – Where would the Lakers be without Blake? Win or lose, he’s been one of their most consistent contributors, gladly taking on the reigns even before Steve Nash would be out for two weeks. Last night, he had just five points and 10 assists. Tonight he chipped in 15 points on 5-11, hit 2-4 from downtown, handed out 11 assists and grabbed six rebounds.
Wes Johnson – Being placed in the starting line-up along with Hill was a good thing, as it has given life to the Lakers’ defense. Stat lines aren’t the best indicators of a player’s defensive efforts, but tonight Johnson had a solid box score of 10 points on 3-6, 2-3 from behind the arc, five rebounds, two assists, three steals and five blocks. He really was all over the floor, blocking Jordan Hamilton’s three-point attempt, taking the ball away from Randy Foye and then hitting a jumper on the other end, blocking Ty Lawson’s layup. When the Lakers were playing defense tonight, it was due in large part to efforts like Johnson’s.
Bench – Just 28 points for the reserves, compared to Denver’s 51 bench points. Jordan Farmar was the most disappointing of all, going 0-4 from the field, hitting just one free throw for his single point, grabbing just one rebound and handing out just one assist in 14 minutes of play. As we’ve learned so far this season, where the bench goes, so do the Lakers usually, and tonight the bench got nowhere.
Free Throw Disparity – The point-difference in each quarter was minimal, but the free throw disparity was hard to ignore. In the first half, the Nuggets attempted 26 free throws and the Lakers attempted eight. For the game, Denver went 23-35 from the charity stripe, while the Lakers went just 17-26.
NBA Scheduling – We can thank the NBA schedulers for the Lakers’ Denver game on the second night of a back-to-back. Their next game in Denver in March is also under the same circumstances. They’ll play the Clippers at home, and then fly to the Mile High City right after. The team didn’t land in Denver until almost 3 am last night, and with the airport being so far away from the city, they didn’t check in until almost an hour later. The upside to all this? They’ve already checked off three of the 19 back-to-backs.
So the Lakers are 0-2 when Xavier Henry is struck on the forehead and bleeding ensues (yes, it happened again, courtesy of Wilson Chandler). They could have had this game. They kept coming at the Nuggets, getting as close as three points, before allowing Denver to go on another scoring run. Next thing they know, the lead is back to 10. This inability to close out close games has been a real struggle for this team, and there’s really no mystery as to why. Aside from Steve Blake’s heroic three-pointer to ice the game in Houston, they have no real closer; no one to take it upon themselves to go at the opponent head-on. Basically, they’re short one Kobe Bryant.