The Lakers handed out t-shirts at tonight’s game that say, “I LOVE MY LAKERS” on the front in celebration of Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, no matter how much the Laker faithful love this team, this team can’t seem to love themselves. That is, love themselves TOGETHER.
There are some games where the Lakers are operating as a sum of their exceptionally great parts (i.e. Christmas Day against the Knicks, their last meeting against OKC, the road game with the Brooklyn Nets, etc.). And then there are games like tonight, against a team they have yet to beat this season, where they look absolutely broken and confused.
The Clippers have owned the Lakers (and many other teams) this season. The reversal of roles as the dominant L.A. team has been an uncomfortable one for the Lakers and their loyal fans to swallow. After a somewhat successful road trip, a win against Phoenix two days ago, and a short break for All-Star weekend coming up, a win tonight would have been pivotal, another step in the right direction. Unfortunately, when the Clippers jumped to a 15-0 start, it was clear where this game was headed – another Laker loss (a big one), 125-101.
Kobe Bryant – Darned if he didn’t do it all again tonight. Despite the -35 in the +/- column and the six turnovers, Bryant had the most balanced game of anyone on the team. 20 points on 7-13, a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line, five rebounds, 11 assists. But no matter how much Bryant has had to adjust his game this season (and he has done so often), it still doesn’t compensate for what the rest of his teammates are lacking. Said Bryant in the locker room after the game, “I’m not very happy right now. Hopefully my teammates feel the same way.” Asked what he’d like his teammates to work on during the break, he said, “Just focus on how bad you want it and how important this is.” It’s all mental for Bryant. It’s not about the perfect follow-through, or how high you can jump to convert a lob. It’s about how badly you want that championship at the end of the season, and as far as he, or any of us can tell, not everyone in the locker room seems to want the same thing as badly as he.
Laker Support – Down by 14 points after the first, it was the Laker supporting cast that chipped away at the deficit with a 14-3 run. Antawn Jamison, Steve Blake, Metta World Peace, Jodie Meeks and Earl Clark got the comeback game going. The Lakers shot 71% in that second quarter. If they were going to take this game, that would have been the perfect time to execute. Mike D’antoni should have just kept this line-up on the floor, because when the starters returned, it was turnover after turmover.
Defense – By halftime, the Clippers had shot 7-15 from three. They hit 16-30 for the game. I’ll save you the trip to grab the calculator – that’s 48 points. Maybe it was a just good shooting night for the Clippers, but when a team hits close to 50% in the first half from downtown, there should be a game plan for the second half. But as soon as the third quarter began, the Clippers scored on three consecutive three-pointers and the Lakers never figured out how to battle it.
Outrebounded – again. After grabbing 16 rebounds in the game against the Suns, Dwight Howard grabbed eight boards tonight. The sad part is, he grabbed six of those eight in the first half. On almost 15 minutes of playing time in the second half, Howard grabbed just a pair of rebounds. Two rebounds. Is he the only player allowed to rebound? Of course not, and for the most part, the rest of the Lakers did what they could on the glass, but collecting 16 rebounds in one game and the following that with an eight-rebound night as Howard did? It’s disappointing because he’s proven, again, that he can be a force to be reckoned with when he so chooses. Unlike Howard, Bryant only has one mode – GO. Unfortunately, not every player is built with this will to win and Howard, no matter how often we overlook his misgivings, is encouraging more doubt than not.
Earl Clark – Even double-double machines have their troubles, and tonight was Clark’s turn. He had just four points on 2-10 from the field, seven rebounds and three assists.
Massacre – The Clippers, at one point, led by 28 points. Not much else can be said about that.
It would have been a great game to win, to silence all the critics, perhaps silence the Clippers themselves, and obviously gain some traction in the race for the final playoff spot. But now the Lakers are 25-29 for the season and there’s no telling what will happen next. At least there’s an All-Star Game this weekend that should provide a distraction.