Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

Start spreading the news…if you haven’t already. The Knicks are the hottest team in the league, and the Lakers can barely reach room temperature.

In their fourth loss in a row, the Lakers, again, fell behind to start the game, and had no choice but to play catch-up to give themselves a chance to win. The game is never over until the final buzzer sounds, and it’s somewhat of a silver lining (though you have to really want to see it), that the Lakers continue to fight until the clock says they can fight no more. But why fold over to start the game, and have to make up for it later?

The Lakers fell behind by as much as 26 points, but managed to cut that lead in half before the final quarter. 107-113 was as close as they got with just over a minute left to play, after Metta World-Peace scored on a layup and was fouled, completing a three-point play. But as has been the case often this season when the Lakers played from behind, the damage had already been done and all too often, it was just too little, too late.

HIGH POINTS:

Fight On – Rarely will they get credit for continuing to play until the very end, but the Lakers didn’t get blown out when all was said and done. It’s not much for a high point, but desperate times, folks.

Temp Big Three – While Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are out, the Lakers’s alternate Big 3 had to come out with a vengeance.

Kobe Bryant – He scored, he rebounded and made plays. 31 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, a steal and one block. The image above with the ice pack strapped to his back – that’s what happens when you try to carry your team, which is what he always tries to do. He will get blamed for it often, but when his teammates are not producing, Bryant isn’t going to stand back and watch them figure out how to score – he will get it done himself…even if it means playing 44 minutes.

Metta World-Peace – Going through a scoring slump the last few games, MWP finally let it out tonight. He scored 23 points on 7-15 from the field, 3-6 from downtown, six rebounds, two steals and a block. He also hit six of his seven free throw attempts.

Dwight Howard – 20 points on 8-11 from the field, but only seven rebounds. He didn’t fill the box score much, but that he managed to score as much as he did shows he’s pulling some of the offensive weight. He even converted on four of his six free throw attempts. That alone deserves mention.
Other high points? – No one else got hurt? That’s always a high for this team these days.

LOW POINTS:

Punched First – Essentially, the problem the Lakers encountered tonight is that they let the Knicks bully them first. The Knicks outscored the Lakers 41-27 in the first quarter, but the Lakers only lost the second quarter by five points and won the second half by 10. This is nothing new. It, in fact, has become a bad habit of this team. It’s as if they don’t check into the game mentally until after the second half, and by that time, it’s usually too late. They shot just under 39% in the first half, hoisting up 19 three pointers and only converting on five. Their eight turnovers led to nine points and on the break, the Knicks outscored them 13-4. They looked helpless. It wasn’t until the latter part of the third quarter and then the fourth quarter, where they showed any signs of life. Even their defense improved, holding New York to just 38% shooting in the final quarter.

Carmelo Anthony, after going off for 22 points on 8-9 from the field and a perfect 3-3 from downtown, in the first quarter, scored just eight points the rest of the way after leaving the game with a sprained ankle. The Knicks eventually “cooled off,” and the Lakers  found a way to score, but that 41-point on 74% shooting that they allowed in that first quarter made all the difference.

The Lakers out-rebounded the Knicks 44-33, they won the battle in the paint 38-32, and even in second chance points, they had a 17-6 advantage. Their 14 turnovers led to 14 points for the Knicks, but the Knicks’ six turnovers yielded 14 points as well, so that’s a wash. In the end, it was just too much ground for them to cover, being down by so much after the first 12 minutes and then getting further down by 26 points.

This team’s shortcomings have been the focal point all season – injured players, lack of defensive intensity, too many turnovers, awful free throw shooting. But the honest to God truth is, these are all fixable. Injured players will heal and that’s why there are back-ups. Defense is about effort – you either put in the work to make sure the other team doesn’t score, or you don’t. Like Yoda said, “You do, or do not. There is no try.” Turnovers can be remedied through careful and purposeful passing and receiving. Free throw shooting isn’t about mechanics and such – it’s about repetition. There are solutions to these physical, concrete issues, but what the Lakers are dealing with at the moment is not physical – it’s completely mental. At least it’s turned into that.

Their troubles this season have nothing to do with a lack of talent or personnel. It’s all about their lack of collective purpose – they each seem to be playing for something other than the teammate who is stretching next to them, or the coach who hurried his recovery time from knee replacement surgery to be physically present at practice and on the sidelines. Kobe Bryant’s purpose each season is always clear, but it may not always be the case with the rest of the guys in the locker room. Pau Gasol, Bryant’s co-captain, isn’t supporting him like one. He’s worried about his place in the offense and, in general, on the team more than he is about possibly getting that third ring. Steve Nash, one of the greatest playmakers in this league, can’t create the offense from the bench. Dwight Howard is learning how to be a leader but can’t get the rest of this team to play defense.

With one of the worst starts in their most current history, the Lakers find themselves disjointed, embarrassed and frustrated. They’re stuck in a dark vortex right now that they can’t seem to pull themselves out of. The deeper they fall, the harder it will be for them to rescue themselves. So while it’s fine and dandy to run some defensive drills, take care of the ball more or shoot hundreds of free throws, if the Lakers can’t extract the pride with which they played when they won those nine games, that may be all they get this season.

Box Score