Well at least they beat the worst team in the league (Charlotte Bobcats). Then again, that was at home, inside the comforts of Staples Center where the Lakers are 17-2; a record that is almost disposable when placed against the team’s 6-14 record on the road. It’s one thing to lose to the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat, the second and third best teams in the league. It’s an entirely different concept to lose to the Detroit Pistons and the Washington Wizards, the seventh and third WORST teams in the league.
After winning their first three games after the All-Star break, it appeared the Lakers were finally starting to gain some traction. They looked and played like a good, solid team completely capable of making a significant run in the post-season. The bench was starting to contribute, Metta World Peace was finally producing, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol looked unbeatable as a pair, and Kobe Bryant was playing like an MVP. But just like the large leads they so easily create, that feeling of accomplishment fades when carelessness, apathy and overconfidence sets in; when the well-being of the parts overrides the well-being of its sum, resulting in nothing but embarrassment and loss.
This was probably the Lakers’ most manageable road trip in the season, especially after such improved play going into it; one where they could have come home 3-0 after defeating two bottom-feeding teams and then one who they have beaten twice this season already. Instead they’re 0-2, with the result of Friday’s game appearing almost meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
Technically, there were some high points – a 15-point lead going into halftime at 64-49, shooting 51% and allowing just 44% shooting for the Wizards in the first two quarters. Then there was the 21-point lead in the third quarter and Pau Gasol having a 19 point, 15 rebound type of game. The Lakers even kept their turnovers to a respectable 13. Unfortunately, all this good feels in vain when the bad is so clearly the winner tonight.
When it all comes down to it, the Lakers lost today because they failed to execute in the most basic of basketball basics – offense and defense.
Offense – In a 64-point first half where they shot 51% and led by as many as 18 points, the Lakers did more than a few things right. They distributed the ball, assisting on 16 of their 22 made field goals. They got inside and were rewarded with 18 free throws, of which they and converted 14. They even hit 6-10 from behind the arc. Gasol was 4-5 from the field, Bynum was 3-3, and the Laker bench had contributed 18 points. The strategy, after such a successful first half, would be to duplicate, if not excel, in the execution and even more so the effort. That would be the sensible plan of attack. But as we’ve discovered about this Laker team this season, if accordance with the plan is not unanimous, neither is the execution.
After reaching a 76-55 advantage with just over seven minutes to play in the third quarter, the Lakers forgot everything they did to get there. Gasol and Bynum, who out-skills any big in a Wizards jersey, combined for just nine points, most of which came from the free throw line. They attempted just five shots as a pair. Meanwhile, Bryant scored five points in the third on 2-8 from the field. The Lakers shot just 4-17, 24% in the third quarter, which isn’t surprising since they handed out ONE assist in the entire 12 minutes. No ball movement, no execution. NO POINTS.
The fourth quarter was more of the same. Gasol and Bynum, again, combined for just six shot attempts in which they converted four, while Bryant went 1-10. 6-21 from the field and four assists.
Bryant scored 30 points for the game, but needed 31 shots to get there. Bynum and Gasol, combined, don’t even equal the number of attempts that Bryant tried himself. They scored 38 points on 12-19 from the field and 14-20 from the charity stripe. 19 shot attempts from two of the Lakers’ easiest scorers…when they get the chances to score that is.
It’s easy to place blame on Bryant, even though the loss can’t be pinned on him completely, but going 9-31 and handing out just four assists in over 40 minutes of floor time is not efficient, nor is it effective, and it’s a disappointment knowing what he is capable of doing for this team when he’s in the right frame of mind. Back in 2009, in the Western Conference finals against the Denver Nuggets, Kobe Bryant was continually doubled and instead of tossing up shots over the suffocating defense, he made plays and in one game handed out 12 assists. When the two bigs are shooting at a high efficiency, they should have the ball in their hands to score all day everyday, and twice on Wednesdays, and Bryant, and every Laker on the floor, knows that. Why they stopped doing what was working is the million-dollar mystery. The Wizards also outscored the Lakers 52-38 in the paint, which isn’t surprising since most of Bryant’s shots/misses in the second half came from everywhere BUT that area.
The Laker bench, after scoring 18 points in the first half, scored just three points in the second and, again, were defeated by a group of Wizards reserves who put up 55 points.
It can’t be understated how infused with confidence a team becomes when they claw their way back from a large deficit. As resilient of a team as the Wizards are, the Lakers have only themselves to blame for their own lackluster offense in the second half.
Defense – For all the talking that Metta World Peace did after keeping Lebron James in check in Sunday’s game, he did very little to back it up against Nick Young, who was 3-9 in the first half but managed to finish with 19 points, especially down the stretch of the game. The Lakers got lazier as the game went on, giving up 17 offensive rebounds to the Wizards, who are ranked 21st in the league in rebounding, while the Lakers sit at Number 2. Other than Gasol’s 15 rebounds, no other Laker, not even the double-double man himself, Bynum, had double-digit boards.
With less than two minutes left in the game and the Lakers down by three points with still a chance to win, John Wall missed a jumper and every purple uniform just stood there and watched as Trevor Booker ran out to secure the offensive rebound. Not one Laker made a move and it was the epitome of their evening. They’d made up their minds on who would walk out of MCI Arena with a victory tonight, and it wasn’t them, and that kind of attitude just doesn’t get you far in this league. Last night’s loss should have ignited something in these Lakers – an anger, a spark, a will to kill the next opponent. Instead we got an effort like tonight.
The effort, in every aspect of this game, was questionable, and that’s an issue that no shooting drills or defensive sets can fix. Effort is an exercise, not an entitlement, and that is where the Lakers failed in these last two losses. 21-point leads are only secure after the final buzzer sounds. If they don’t know this by now, they won’t get very far this season.
So how many more meetings does Derek Fisher need to call for the Lakers to be reminded of their goals AS A TEAM? How many more times will Bryant encourage and compliment the play of Bynum and Gasol, but ignore them come game time? How many more coats of sugar does Mike Brown have left for post-loss interviews?