Save for two ejections, tonight was your run-of-the-mill Laker game.
Remaining competitive against the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers got their second wind in the second quarter, following Nick Young’s ejection after retaliation caused by a hard foul from Alex Len. The score was 36-35 before the incident, until the Lakers went off on an 20-8 run to gain a 13-point lead.
Unfortunately/As usual, it was followed by an 11-2 Phoenix run that cut the lead to four points going into halftime. And then, like clockwork, it was a slippery slope to yet another loss when the third quarter began. Tonight the game ended in a 121-114 disappointment.
Despite these losses, there are sometimes bright spots that most nights aren’t considered so because the end result was a loss. This, however, is what makes this team so frustrating to watch. There is potential to win some games, even despite the injuries (at least against the bottom-dwellers of the league), and the Lakers can’t seem to figure out how. Wes Johnson, for example, has finally been able to kick off a productive string of games. Tonight he had 22 points on 7-14 from the field, 6-7 from the free throw line, five rebounds, two steals and even had a block and assist. Pau Gasol led the team with 24 big points on 10-20, nine rebounds, five assists and a block. Chris Kaman, getting in some playing time over Robert Sacre, chipped in 18 points on an efficient 6-7 from the field and a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line. He and Young were the only players on the team to finish with a positive under the +/- column. As a team, the Lakers shot an excellent 22-24 from the charity stripe, moved the ball well (26 assists on 43 made field goals – still more than the Suns) and had a chance to prove themselves after Young was ejected. They led by 13 points, which was the biggest lead in the game, but they are missing something vital.
The Lakers are finding it hard to get through close games, blowouts, etc. because they have no identity. They don’t know who they are and what their game is because their layers of self have been stripped all season long. One by one, they watched as the center of their offense (point guard play) walked away from the court and donned a suit. They have no identity because they have no leader by their side; on the floor or the locker room. Pau Gasol likes to lead by example, but as one of he team captains, and veterans, he has a responsibility to speak up, defend or advise his teammates in games like tonight when tensions are so high. As for Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, they can only instill so much inspiration sitting on the bench or practicing with the team. Who else is telling this group of downtrodden players, during the course of the game, that they have a choice when they’re faced with adversity on the court. Who is telling them to chase after rebounds so that the opposing team doesn’t take advantage to the tune of 23 second chance points. Who is reminding them to take care of the ball instead of turning it over 17 times and giving the Suns 37 fast break points? Pau? Kendall Marshall? Coaches?
After the game, Nick Young couldn’t help but call his teammates out, saying he felt like it was 1-5 at the end of the court when he fell after the hard foul and had to face Len and the rest of the Suns on the floor. Rookie, Ryan Kelly, was the only one there who tried to keep Young at bay, but he failed to keep his teammate from throwing a punch that may result in his suspension. It’s a telling incident. After a start of a season that began so promising, with a squad whose great chemistry was clear as day, these losses are certainly taking a toll on this team. And without a leader to gather the troops, how many battles can they win?