Both the Lakers and the Jazz entered tonight’s game with a 1-3 record, and the team who wanted to avoid 1-4 more got the victory. After earning their first win this season against the Detroit Pistons, the Lakers could have been that team that wanted the 2-3 record. It, in fact, should have been of their own expectations to build on the positives that Sunday’s win produced – energy and activity on both ends of the floor, good ball movement, efficient scoring, a collective team win. Unfortunately, the Lakers’ short-term memory has contributed to their demise.
They forgot that Kobe Bryant’s 40-point effort against the Clippers yielded a loss for the lack of contributions from his teammates, and practically forced him, into tonight’s 29 points. They forgot that they’re averaging 20+ turnovers a contest and that their fewest turnover game has been their sole victory thus far. They forgot that they have two skilled big men who are adept at scoring and passing by, instead going 4-23 from behind the arc (To be fair, one of the big men himself forgot this too. How else can Pau Gasol explain his 5-point, 7-rebound in 36 minutes effort tonight?).
The Lakers are a work in progress – yes. This has been established…repeatedly. But if they’re not moving forward, they’re either moving backward or caught in a terrible stalemate. Their play, in almost every aspect of the game tonight, looked nothing like their effort just one game ago. One step forward, two steps back.
o Other than Kobe Bryant, who managed to rack up a game-leading 29 points on 7-17 from the field and 15-17 from the free throw line, five boards, four assists and three steals – all while at 90% healthy; and aside from Jordan Hill who muscled up 12 boards in 23 minutes (Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard combined for just 16 despite 36 and 37 minutes of playing time respectively), there is nothing else worth mentioning so please proceed to tonight’s LOW POINTS as they are plentiful.
o Offensive Struggles – How about a Laker Litany of Woe?
• 26%, 44%, 28%, 38% – Shooting percentage in each quarter that, combined, led to 34% for the night. Utah dominated the Lakers in the paint tonight, which is inexcusable for a team with two post players of Howard and Gasol’s caliber.
• 32-46 – Free throw shooting. Dwight Howard’s troubles from the charity stripe are no mystery, and he has been and will probably continue to be, excused due to his other contributions (post game, defense, etc). However, this cannot continue. This is the second game this season in which the margin of victory could have gone the other way had the Lakers not struggled at the line. Against Dallas, they received 31 free throw attempts to the Mavericks’ 18, but missed 19 freebies. Tonight, they shot 28 more free throws than Utah and still couldn’t take advantage.
• 4-23 – Three-point shooting. Again, why, with Howard and/or Gasol on the floor, would there be 23 attempts from so far beyond the painted area? On the flip side, no matter how many attempts from downtown they take, the Lakers have got to get those to fall. Jodie Meeks, who Coach Mike Brown has decided to leave out of the current rotation in favor of Devin Ebanks, could have helped in this department. As Brown continues through his revolving door of reserves, however, Meeks’ chance for regular playing time is yet to be determined.
• 11:19 – Assist to turnover ratio. The Lakers, so far this season, average 19.6 apg, which is fair, if not for the almost 19 turnovers a game that they commit. Yes – Steve Nash’s absence leaves a large hole to fill in the floor general department, but the Lakers have more than a few capable playmakers on the team not named Nash. If only they could maintain possession of the ball.
o Defensive Struggles – There will always be games, occasionally, when a team’s shots are just not falling. Tonight, for example, Gasol missed a few mid-range jumpers and hook shots that make up the bread and butter of his offense. Jordan Hill, a great offensive rebounder, couldn’t tip-in a miss that was inches from the hoop. Even Howard missed some easy layups. But a difficult offensive night could be helped by some effort on the other end, keep the other team from having an easy time scoring. The Jazz didn’t exactly shoot lights out, although it felt as though they did with the Lakers struggling as badly as they were. Utah shot just 45% from the field, hit only 5-17 of their three pointers, and didn’t get to the free throw line even half as often as the Lakers, but they forced their opponents into 19 turnovers, blocked seven shots, collected a doze steals and were all over every purple uniform on the floor. That made all the difference in their win, and it could have made a difference for the Lakers had they at least matched Utah’s efforts on the defensive end. There was so much standing around by the visitors that at one point, Mo’ Williams received a pass on the left block and seemingly strolled to the hoop for a layup with ne’er a purple uniform running to prevent him from getting there.
o Bench – Oh that bench. They’ve been the Lakers’ blight for the last few years that it’s almost too easy to place blame on their shoulders for every tick on the L-column, but it’s hard to ignore the margin of contribution between them and the opposing set of reserves. Tonight’s damage was a 36-12 variance in Utah’s favor. Steve Blake taking Steve Nash’s place in the starting line-up is undoubtedly a factor, but since Blake hasn’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut off the pine, his absence from the second unit’s time on the floor isn’t the only reason for their lack of impact on the game. Antawn Jamison, a former Sixth Man of the Year, is averaging just 4.3 ppg this season on not even three attempts per game. Devin Ebanks still looks puzzled on the floor. Jordan Hill can score off putbacks from offensive rebounds, but doesn’t have much range past that. And Darius Morris, bless his second year heart, has got the size and speed to get past opponents, but his playmaking yields more turnovers than anything else.
o Energy and effort – They appeared in spurts, but even when the Lakers went on their scoring runs to catch up to the Jazz, there was no sense of a collective fight from this team tonight. Bryant was biting his jersey so often, in obvious frustration, that it’s a wonder it remained in one piece after the game.
The most disturbing aspect of the Lakers’ four losses is that they were all winnable games, but the lack of consistency in practically every aspect this season (player rotation, offensive systems, defensive systems, free throw shooting, communication, etc) has led to this confusing mess of a team. At some point, the terms “process,” “work-in-progress” and “time to gel” will no longer be valid excuses for a team with this combination of skill, talent and basketball IQ. Patience from all parties involved remain, though reluctantly; especially when the team is sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference.