The Lakers sure know how to set themselves up for a victory…and still lose in the end. It was Saturday against Utah all over again, with the visiting team keeping it close through three quarters and then failing to close it out in the fourth. The Lakers and Jazz were tied after the third quarter at 67 points a piece, then Utah went off for 29 points versus the Lakers’ 20 in the last 12 minutes. After the Lakers had beaten them twice this season, the Jazz finally exacted some revenge.
The same could be said for Philadelphia. Season after season of losing to the purple and gold on their own home court, the young, talented, energetic Sixers, led by inspiring coach, Doug Collins, exploited the Lakers’ inability to close games on the road and finally broke a losing streak that dates back through more a few seasons ago.
Tonight, with Coach Mike Brown suspended for making contact with an official in Saturday’s game, the Lakers were up by four points after a close first half, led by a spectacular Kobe Bryant. Unfortunately for the visiting team, spectacular from their leader only lasted the 19:53 minutes that he played in those first two quarters, because in the next 24 minutes (all of which Bryant played), he scored just four more points. Lucky the Lakers still had Andrew Bynum, who only had seven points in the first half then went off for 13 in the second. If not for him, this game wouldn’t have been as close as it was.
Bynum was huge factor in the 20 minutes he played in the second half. But after going into the final quarter down by just one, the Lakers took an 86-79 lead with just over four minutes to go, and couldn’t prevent the Sixers from going on a 16-4 run to win the game. 16-4 run! In the final four minutes of the game, the Lakers could only muster four points from two free throws from Bynum and one fadeaway from Bryant. Against an up and coming team like the Sixers, that just wasn’t good enough.
Kobe Bryant (First Half) – 24 points on 8-14 from the field, 4-6 from behind the arc, 4-4 from the free throw line – To say that Bryant wasn’t up for putting on a show in front of his hometown would be a joke. And to think for one second that he didn’t want to surpass Shaquille O’Neal for fifth place on the NBA All-Time Scoring list in front of the same crowd that has been as cruel and bitter as they have been supportive and endearing is just as laughable. Bryant knew what he was doing when he rattled off 24 points in the first two quarters. He literally ran one of his famous shooting clinics. The man was on fire, and that’s an understatement. He scored nine straight Laker points in the first quarter and hit back-to-back threes in the second. As is the problem when he goes off the way he did, however, the rest of the team offense fell to the wayside and the Lakers ended the half Kobe – 24 points, and the rest of the team 26 points combined which, in terms of TEAM sports, isn’t the greatest distribution of work.
Andrew Bynum – Bryant may have taken the spotlight in the first half, but first-time All-Star Bynum picked up where he left off in the second. Ever since his All-Star nod was made official, Bynum has been the Lakers’ rock on both ends of the court. Tonight he rattled off 20 points on 8-13 from the field, hit 4-6 of his free throws, grabbed 20 rebounds and blocked three shots. Another 20-20 game for young Andrew, which almost feels in vain considering the Lakers couldn’t secure a win when they’ve got an All-Star center who could pile up a stat line like that! Bynum hit bank shots, putbacks from misses and converted alley-oops. His five turnovers still indicate the trouble he has playing out of a double team, but in-game time is the only way he’s going to learn to deal with it. He contested shots on the other end, alert on the glass, which brings us to the only other high point for the Lakers in this game…
Glass Work – The Lakers outrebounded the Sixers 55-30! Other than Jason Kapono, every player in a purple uniform grabbed at least two rebounds, led by 20 monster boards from Bynum. Unfortunately for the Lakers, rebounds do not compensate for turnovers (more on this later).
Kobe Bryant (Second Half) – 2-12 in the second half, 0-4 from downtown and zero free throw attempts. Other than the five assists he handed out, Bryant didn’t do much else in the last two quarters. The Sixers’ defense collapsed on him every time he had the ball in his hands, which was the only thing Philadelphia could do to abate the Lakers’ hottest hand, and it worked. Instead of shooting 17% in the second half, Bryant could have racked up a few more rebounds, handed off a half dozen more dimes. Instead he continued to chuck up prayers and turn the ball over.
Paul Gasol – As Katy Perry sings, he’s hot then he’s cold – 16 points and 11 rebounds for the resident Spaniard tonight, but on 5-14 shooting? He used to be called Mr. Consistent, but this season, Gasol’s stats have dipped. Compared to last season, Gasol’s shooting percentage has gone from 53% to 51%, free throws from 82% to 79%. Though they haven’t reduced by much, they’re still moving in the wrong direction, and as one of the Lakers’ big three, Gasol can’t be on one night and on another. He must be on for every game.
Bench (again) – This will get old, eventually. Maybe those 48 bench points against the Bobcats was a fluke. Or maybe that bar was set so high, the reserves couldn’t just reach it again. Whatever the case, this lack of production from the reserves can’t last. Otherwise, this attitude and play of “just getting by” will eventually wear out for this team. 16 points from Andrew Goudelock and Troy Murphy is trivial, when the Sixers bench can score 49. It’s true – the absence of Steve Blake the last few weeks has been a gigantic blow to the bench production, especially since Blake came out this season firing on all cylinders in hopes of redeeming a disappointing last season. Nevertheless, even without Blake, the Lakers bench is not just made up of the two rookies and two second-years. It’s comprised mostly of seasoned VETERANS who aren’t strangers to the right way of playing this game. Jason Kapono, Matt Barnes and Troy Murphy, with 26 years of NBA experience between them, get the bulk of the reserves’ playing time and must to find a way to be leaders off the pine. With Lamar Odom, the heart of the previous seasons’ bench, gone, someone has to step up and soon.
Turnovers – 16 turnovers for the Lakers on 81 possessions. The Sixers had the same number of possessions, yet only gave the ball away FOUR TIMES. Four turnovers in 48 minutes! That’s control! The Lakers on the other hand – out of control. Credit the Sixer’s defense, who forced a great portion of those turnovers, but others were just completely unforced – like passes to teammates who aren’t looking, or overshooting lobs. It’s not a wonder the Lakers have been unable to score a victory on the road. They can hardly hang on to the ball to do much damage to their opponents.
Fourth Quarter Collapse – 21 points on 33% shooting. The Sixers, on the other hand, scored 25 points on 53% from the field, thanks in part to Lou Williams, who scored Philadelphia’s 12 points in that 16-4 run to win the game. The Lakers’ defense AND offense ran out of gas in those final four minutes when they lost that seven-point lead, and they were never able to recover.
It was, again, another game the Lakers could have and should have won. Sadly, that has been the theme for the Lakers this season – coulda, woulda, shoulda. And the road record, now, reads 3-9. Nowhere to go but up from here, right?