Before the game, a Lakers commercial on KCAL-9 said, “Our belief is unwavering. Our spirit – unbreakable (pun intended?). Our mission – to win it all…again.”
Belief? Overconfidence might be more like it. Spirit? Looks like laziness the last few games. The mission? Still in sight though the last week has made the vision a bit blurry.
For the second time this season, the Lakers have produced a 4-game losing streak. The difference now is timing – they’re three games away from the playoffs. After going 17-1 after the season break, the defending champions have completely gone back to lethargic, careless basketball and, despite evidence to the contrary, can’t always depend on post-season scheduled intensity to bail them out in the first round.
The Lakers started hot, as they’d done in the three games before tonight. And just like those last three games, they also went cold soon after. Attribute the loss to Andrew Bynum’s stomach bug. Attribute it to the slow reacting defense. Attribute it to the 17 turnovers. The bottom line is, the Lakers, in the last week, have been unable (or unwilling) to sustain their effort and energy for a full 48 minutes and they have certainly suffered because of it. The matter of playoff seeding aside, the point is to play properly each time you’re on the floor and the Lakers haven’t done that in four games.
The Lakers led by as much as six points in the first quarter, then fell behind by 24 in the third, against a Portland team trying to get to a more favorable seeding in the Western Conference, not to mention a team trying to avoid being swept this season by their rivals. Their rivals were kind enough to help them in their mission.
The energy was clearly on Portland’s side, and though they were outrebounded by the Lakers 52-41, they were scrappy and stifling on defense, getting eight steals and forcing turnover after turnover, which resulted in fastbreak point after fastbreak point. Layups were also a nice delicacy for the Blazers, who got past the sleepy Laker defense time and again to get to the hoop freely.
As if the defense weren’t bad enough, the Lakers offense wasn’t exactly humming either. Even with Kobe Bryant’s four consecutive 3-pointers to end the first half (Bryant finished with 24 points on 10-25), the vistors struggled (or simply didn’t execute) to put the ball in the hoop. In the third quarter, it took the Lakers almost four minutes to score their first points of the second half with Bryant’s layup, and just their second field goal came five minutes later on a Pau Gasol jumper. Two field field goals in eight and a half minutes.
The Laker bench, M.I.A. the last few games, did make a run late in the third quarter that took the 24-point deficit and turned it into 12 before the final quarter. They outscored the Blazers bench 29-7 and may have done more good if given a greater chance.
After Bryant brought the lead to within 7 points and with just over two minutes left in the game, Lamarcus Aldridge missed a jumper from the free throw line, but instead of going after the defensive rebound, Gasol literally watched as he was beaten to the board, which resulted in a Nicolas Batum three-pointer that put the lead back to 10. That, in essence, was the running theme in tonight’s game for the Lakers – a lack of effort. 2:00 with a seven-point deficit to overcome is nothing. The last time the Lakers were at the Rose Garden in February, they were down by seven points with less than a minute left in the game – a game they eventually won in overtime.
Yes, it’s easy to overreact to a team who has pulled this stunt before – underwhelming in the regular season and busting out fighting in the playoffs. But after playing a month and half’s worth of dominant basketball, it’s just unnerving to see the Lakers go back to such losing ways so close to the real season.
There are three games left in the regular season and the Lakers have an opportunity to get back to their winning ways, possibly bring some momentum into the first round. This habit of losing streaks this season is just unbecoming of a defending champion.
Pre-game Thoughts: Portland trying to get to the #6 spot in the Western Conference; also trying to avoid getting swept by the Lakers this season; the Lakers on a 3-game losing streak – all point to a long night for the defending champs
Half-time thoughts: 47-53 – As they’d done in the last three games, the Lakers started hot then fizzled shortly after. The Blazers led by as much as 12 points, and if not for Kobe Bryant’s four straight from beyond the arc (he’s already got 18 points on 7-13), the visitors would be down a lot more. Lakers’ low energy obvious in their carelessness (10 turnovers already) and lack of defensive presence, giving up 55% shooting, 28 points in the paint and a 16-0 advantage in fastbreak points. Pau Gasol, who started in the first quarter with six points on 3-5, didn’t attempt a single field goal in the second. With Andrew Bynum trying to play through a stomach bug, the rest of the frontcourt needs to step up. At least the Lakers’ bench is producuing.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Andrew Bynum – but with a caveat – the man played through stomach bug. On the other hand, Lamar Odom played with a similar ailment last Friday when they Lakers beat the Jazz in Utah (which was their last victory) and Kobe Bryant has played through the flu.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: For the first time, in a long time, the Lakers bench actually put in some work, turning a 24-point Portland lead in the 3rd quarter to 12 points before the final 12 minutes. If only the starters were on the same page.