It was only the end of the THIRD quarter, but Jamal Crawford’s might-as-well-have-been-at-halfcourt three was the dagger. A dagger with 12 more minutes left in the game – that’s life at the Rose Garden for the Lakers. They were down by just 10 manageable points going into the fourth, but it might as well have been 20 or 30 because, honestly, we all knew how this game was going to end.
It always starts the same way up in Portland, with the Lakers’ offense humming early (68% shooting in the first quarter) and then their game ending on a sour note (33% shooting in the second half). Despite another productive game from Andrew Bynum, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Lakers lost this game on the defensive end.
Big Game Trio – Again, the Lakers’ big three managed to put in some good work on the floor. Bryant led the way with his 30 points on 13-24, eight rebounds and three assists. His mid-range jumper seems to have its swag back, as his ability to weave through the defense to get to the hoop, which he did a few times tonight. His three-point shot, however, still has a ways to go. His wrist is clearly affecting that area of his game, among other things (like passing the ball efficiently).
Eating second was Andrew Bynum, who had another huge game with 21 points on 9-16, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Bynum is shooting 62% this season, averaging 17 rebounds and two blocks per game. The man is a monster out there on the offensive end. Now he has to work on some defense. His big body alone is menacing,
and he chased Raymond Felton along the sidelines today so he could block the shot (which he did). Bynum did send small heart attacks across Southern California when, at the end of the third quarter, he received a bounce pass from Steve Blake, which he converted, but he landed and appeared to wince as he limped off the court to the bench. He looked fine in the second half, however.
Defense on Lamarcus Aldridge notwithstanding, Pau Gasol had another solid game with his 19 points on 7-10, seven rebounds and two blocks. His jumper started out, this season, looking a little ragged but he managed to snap out of it tonight. Gasol was shooting wide open jumpers and making them.
Lakers’ 1st half – There was no stopping them. Kobe Bryant opened the game with a jumper, followed by a hook shot by Andrew Bynum, a Matt Barnes layup, which was then followed by back-to-back jumpers from Pau Gasol, a pull-up jumper from Bryant again and then even Derek Fisher hit a j of his own. The Lakers hit their first 13 of 15 shots from the field, managing a 31-point first quarter. At the end of two quarters, they had shot 62% from the field and had only five turnovers, a vast improvement from previous games when the Lakers had accumulated double-digit turnovers before the third quarter.
2nd half collapse – What happened, you ask? 13-40 from the field while the Blazers went 20-40, that’s what. The Lakers scored just 18 points in the third quarter and that just about did it for them for the game. Kobe Bryant alone went just 5-13 in the second half. The Lakers missed a slew of easy shots as well, all around the mouth of the hoop. Metta World Peace had a wide open shot early in the game and instead of slamming it in, decided to lay it up, and hit nothing but rim. Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant were fighting for offensive rebounds but tossed the ball so haphazardly around that it really had no choice but to avoid the twine. Devin Ebanks, seeing some action again since the game against the New York Knicks, couldn’t even convert on a dunk! It was just a terrible second half for the Lakers.
Defense-starved – back door lobs, back door passes – come on in, Blazers! Door’s wide open! Gerald Wallace (31 points on 13-19) had a field day in the Lakers’ back yard tonight, as did Lamarcus Aldridge, Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford. Help defense, even when utilized, was futile because every player in a Blazers jersey, could score in any number of ways and the Lakers did little to stop them. Aldridge was hitting face-up jumpers which was very Pau-like. Gerald Wallace scored from behind the arc, in the paint, everywhere! Jamal Crawford, coming off the bench, provided the Blazers with a 17-point spark. The Lakers couldn’t stop or even remotely answer any of the Blazers’ challenges. Portland may have shot just 46%, but the Lakers shot 47% and had 10 fewer possessions than the Blazers.
3-point shooting – 0-11 tonight and all I can say is, thank goodness they didn’t attempt 25.
Turnovers – A chance to close the deficit, Bryant crossed half-court late in the fourth quarter with just over two minutes left in the game. Obviously trying to set up a play, he jumped and sent a pass meant for Derek Fisher, right into out of bounds. 14 turnovers for the Laker tonight while Portland had 4 TOTAL.
Laker bench – Metta World Peace (0-5), Steve Blake (2-9) Jason Kapono (2-4, which isn’t bad) and Devin Ebanks (1-5). Adding insult to injury, Josh McRoberts, who would’ve been a great help on defense, sat out a second game in a row due to a sprained toe.
Lack of Mental Fortitude - We could add to this laundry list of everything the Lakers did wrong tonight, but when it comes down to THE source of their inability to close out games, there’s nothing to blame but their lack of mental strength this season.
Every single loss – Chicago, Sacramento, Denver and now Portland – the Lakers were always in a position to take over the game in a tight race but were unable to execute a plan and then follow through. And even beneath that lack of strength psychologically, is a subcategory in lack of cohesion. This team has literally been together for about five weeks. With just a week of “training camp,” they had to play two pre-season games against the new and improved Clippers, which was then followed by three games one after the other, which was part of a six games in eight days stretch. Andrew Bynum is playing great, yes. Kobe Bryant is playing through his injury, true. There is still something missing – a fire within, a drive to get to the top, a hunger. Those aren’t quite visible collectively just yet, but the Lakers need to work on getting all that back as a group and soon.