As I stood outside Staples Center, a kid, wearing his Sunday white #24 jersey, walked by Magic Johnson’s statue, then turned to his father and said, “Kobe Bryant’ll have one of those someday.”
Even when he’s not on the court playing, Bryant is in the mind of every Laker fan, especially on game nights like tonight, when the team could’ve used a closer. Their closer. Instead they failed, yet again, to finish the final quarter strongly, despite having solid second and third quarters to catch up, and then overtake Memphis’ lead.
Huge efforts from the usual suspects, Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake, couldn’t overshadow the game that Zach Randolph had. Jordan Hill had his hands full with Z-Bo, and Pau Gasol had the same challenge keeping watch of brother, Marc Gasol.
The Lakers fell behind by as much as 10 points early in the game, but managed to keep it close. As has been the Lakers’ issues in these close games (except for the Atlanta and Houston wins), they can’t seem to take hold of the final quarter to win. While the Grizzlies got their first road win, the Lakers suffered their seventh loss.
Jodie Meeks – The team’s leading scorer showed today why he is the team’s leading scorer. Meeks finished with a team high 25 points on 10-16 from the field, and 5-9 from downtown. Known mostly for his long-range shooting, Meeks has been a mildly surprising player this year, taking it to the hoop almost as often as he launches from 23 feet away.
Nick Young – SwaggyP did some work tonight, chipping in 18 points on 7-14 from the field, including 2-4 from behind the arc. His shooting is streaky, but when he’s on, he can be a real factor.
Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar – They may not have scored in bunches, but together they handed out 16 assists.
Pau Gasol – Despite scoring just 10 points on a terrible 4-12 from the field, Gasol did collect 13 rebounds. He missed quite a few shots that he usually makes – lefty hooks and mid-range jumpers. So the issue tonight isn’t his lack of touches or aggressiveness, it’s his lack of accuracy.
Free Throws – The Lakers, having essentially been turned into a perimeter-minded team, haven’t earned a lot of free throw attempts in the last few games, but as evidenced in the last few games, even when they get the attempts, they haven’t been able to convert the majority of them. Tonight, the Lakers earned 11 free throws, but only made 6. Considering they lost by three points, those 5- missed throws could have made a difference.
Bench – The Laker reserves top the NBA, averaging almost 50 ppg. Mike D’Antoni usually depends on them to score when the group on the floor is having a tough time putting up points. Tonight, however, they scored just 30 points collectively. Young led the reserves with his 18 points on 7-14 from the field, but Chris Kaman was just 3-10 for his six points, Xavier Henry was 0-2 and didn’t score a single point, and Jordan Farmar’s struggles carried over into this game, as he went 0-4 from the field.
Ultimate Non-Closers – The Lakers either play really awesome or really bad in games. They don’t seem to have a middle ground. Close games like today are winnable, but the Lakers’ scoring droughts go on for minutes at a time and soon that small lead or tie has turned into a deficit.
Kobe Bryant was only suited up to donate the $150,000 check that the Laker Youth Foundation is donating to the relief efforts in the Philiipines. But the gasp heard ‘round Staples Center was genuine glee and surprise when he appeared. How long had it been since we’ve seen Kobe Bryant in a uniform? If only he could have played tonight.