13-26 – The Detroit Pistons are 13-26, almost the exact opposite of the Lakers’ record to date, and the Lakers STILL could not pull together a game to defeat them. After allowing the Pistons just 17 points in the first quarter on 33% shooting, and then driving up their lead to 12 points in the second quarter, the Lakers lost focus and allowed the Pistons a run that ended in a 28-17 disadvantage going into the half.
After a concerted defensive effort and focus in the third quarter, the Lakers appeared poised to finally run the Pistons over and head on down to Washington, DC to stomp on the lowly Wizards. Instead they opened the fourth quarter on the bad end of a 10-2 run and just couldn’t keep their foot on the gas long enough to make the drive worth it. Each time they gained any sort of lead, they’d allowed the Pistons to get right back into it, needing a Kobe Bryant buzzer beating jumper to force overtime.
All they had to do was play smart, if even in the closing minutes of the final 12, but it was one poor decision after another – being three points ahead with less than two minutes left in the game but continuing to attempt three pointers instead of higher percentage shots that could pad the lead further; not closing in on Rodney Stuckey who scored on back to back possessions; throwing behind the back passes when every possession should have cherished and capitalized on. In the end, the game was a hot mess that didn’t need to be one.
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol – 50 points on 21-32, 8-9 from the free throw line, 24 rebounds, eight assists, four blocks – why the ball didn’t go through the hands of the Laker bigs in almost every possession in this game (and every game in which the Lakers lose) is always the mystery with this team. Jason Maxiell was no match for Gasol, who had 20 points on 8-14. That Gasol attempted more than 10 shots was gift in and of itself, and his six assists were icing. Greg Monroe was absolutely no match for Bynum’s 30 points on 13-18. Bynum was a beast – completely and utterly. He ran the floor, established position in the post, rose up to either convert lobs or receive passes. He is, simply, playing as well, if not better, than we had hoped for. If only he was given the opportunity each night to be even greater. This game would have been over in regulation had the Lakers just taken advantage of their advantages – LENGTH. LOW POST GAME. BYNUM. GASOL. But no – 22 attempts were made from behind the arc and only three were converted. 22 low percentage shots that could have been easily distributed through the skillful 7-footers who were scoring so efficiently. 66 empty points that could have been 44 had they been layups, hook shots, dunks – points in the paint where the Lakers are so very dominant – when they choose to be so.
Laker Defense – through three quarters, that is, and a handful of times thereafter. After 36 minutes, the Detroit Pistons had just 54 points on 34% shooting. They managed to score just nine points on 4-24 from the field (17%!) in the third quarter and up until that point, appeared ready for slaughter…until the fourth quarter came around.
Black Mask does not equal Black Mamba – Admit it – that Kobe Bryant trade that Ric Bucher suggested earlier today crossed your minds at least once during tonight’s game. For every glorious and heart-pounding moment that Bryant has provided us in his illustrious career, there are also those instances that have us scratching our heads and then pulling our hair in frustration. After going 1-6 in the first quarter, wearing a newly custom-made black mask, Bryant changed back to his normal clear mask in the second quarter, but none of it mattered. As effective as he was in the first three games with that mask on, he was just as ineffective today. 22 points on 8-26 from the field, 2-9 from behind the arc – not Bryant’s best. Yes, he hit a buzzer beating jumper that put the game into overtime (which it shouldn’t have come to anyway), but in overtime he went 0-3 with zero rebounds, but two assists. It’s no secret that Bryant will, more often than not, try to shoot his way out of a bad night, but in games like today, he needs to be responsible and hone in on what IS working at the moment, like his playmaking. There were more than a few sequences tonight of Bryant to Gasol to Bynum for a hoop. Why? Because it was working, and Bryant should have recognized that instead of attempting 26 shots.
Point Disparity – The Lakers’ big three of Bryant-Gasol-Bynum scored 72 of the Lakers’ final 85 points, which means the other six Lakers who hit the floor scored just 13 points combined. Three players can’t account for 85% of a team’s score – it’s just not effective nor is it efficient. The Laker bench managed just seven points. If they can’t beat even a sub-.500 team in this manner, how could they even think of defeating anyone else?
Sporadic Focus – There were 11 lead chances and five ties. If this were a championship-contending team, such a close game would have been understandable, but against a 12-26 Detroit Pistons team, it’s inexcusable. The Lakers had a 12-point lead early in the game, which turned into a deficit. Throughout the rest of the second half, they overcame a deficit, began a new lead, then continued to give them up through lazy play. It was a vicious cycle they should have and could have ended. It’s as if all the focus they maintained in Sunday’s win over Miami had some sort of expiration date because it was sputtering tonight and they suffered because of it.
Just when the Lakers appeared to have turned a corner, seemingly appearing to be a more collectively focused team, they go and lose to the12-26 Detroit Pistons. That third spot in the Western Conference didn’t even last them 24 hours. And if they continue to lose focus, that fourth seed is as good as gone too.