Kobe Bryant subbed out of the game with 22.5 left in the fourth quarter and the Lakers heading for their second straight loss of this season. Bryant sat on the bench and stared blankly at the floor before him. 29 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals, he must have been thinking, and it still wasn’t enough. And he would be right, because despite that offensive effort, Bryant and the rest of the Lakers failed, for also the second game in a row, to put in work on the other end of the court.
The two losses to the Clippers in the pre-season? Just practice, right? Yesterday’s game against the Bulls? It was close until the end, plus it was Christmas. As for the Lakers’ excuse for tonight’s loss against the Kings? There are none, because, plain and simply, they were outworked and outplayed and there’s just no justifying such an effort. In a few more games, this veteran team will not, and should not, be able to hide behind the “new coach, new system, new teammates” excuse.
With an 82-game schedule, it would have been easy to say, “Well, it’s a long season.” Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for this time around as the Lakers await their first victory since April 28 when they closed the first round series against the then-led Chris Paul Hornets. From the Dallas series to today’s game, the streak is now eight losses in a row and a win cannot come sooner.
(New post-game format!)
Disjointed, shortlived defense – Phil Jackson always said that defense is made of effort more than anything, and tonight the Lakers had it…in spurts, and by spurts I mean the defense was there one minute and gone the next. Tyreke Evans (20 points on 6-13) managed to score on uncontested layups and finger rolls with ne’er a gold uniform in his path, and the Lakers’ perimeter defense helped Sacramento shoot 9-18 from behind the arc. When the Lakers did play some D, they pulled to within two points in the fourth quarter after a 17-6 run, but failed to sustain that effort until the very end, which was made worse by…
Scattered offense – Kobe Bryant took the brunt of the scoring, same as he did in last night’s game against Chicago. Bryant attempted 24 shots, with the next closest effort (Metta World Peace) with 14 attempts. The difference? Bryant hit just 10 of those shots and Metta hit eight. Pau Gasol managed to chip in a 15-point effort in 12 attempts but scoring halted in the final four minutes of the game when the Lakers finally caught up to within two points. Not only were the Lakers unable to defend effectively in those final minutes, they also scored just one more basket, which is indicative of the rest of their night. Gasol’s jumper at the 3:49 mark in the fourth was the last field goal by the Lakers until Ebanks’ layup when the game had already been decided.
Three-point shooting – The only upsides to the Lakers’ three-point shooting this evening were that Pau Gasol didn’t attempt any and that they only tried six more after the first half. In all, the Lakers went 1-16 from behind the arc, with Troy Murphy hitting the singular make.
Wacky line-up – In the third quarter, Josh McRoberts had to sub out of the game and has since been diagnosed with a sprained left big toe and a sprained left thumb. This injury report aside, his absence led to a random line-up of Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Metta World Peace, Troy Murphy and, you guessed it, Luke Walton, which produced exactly four points in the last 2:45 of the third quarter.
Let there be Peace – In a breakout performance of the season (so far), Metta World Peace shone the brightest for the Lakers. With 19 points on 8-14, four rebounds, four assists, one steal, one block and zero turnovers, MWP appeared the most engaged, the one player who seemed aware of every possession, whether he stood on the offensive or defensive side. In one sequence, he blocked a shot and kept the ball from falling out of bounds so he could pass it on to Kobe Bryant who found Pau Gasol for a dunk. He also completed three three-point plays. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend rather than just a fluke.
Matt Barnes – Making his first appearance since the pre-season, Barnes entered the third quarter and injected some much-needed life into his team. He may have only scored four points, but his activity was all over the court. Late in the fourth quarter and the Lakers with a chance to win the game, Barnes blocked John Salmons’ two consecutive jump shots and forced the Kings into a shot clock violation. If his efforts did anything this evening, it’s a safe bet he’ll be off the bench before Walton in the next few games.
Stat Line – The Lakers shot 16-19 from the free throw line (a better effort than their 9-19 in last night’s game), outrebounded the Kings 45-40, out-assisted the home team 21-16, had 6 steals to Sacramento’s 4 and limited their turnovers to 11.
Do the Lakers still have much to figure out? Affirmative. Do they have time? They have little. Can they? As much as some are counting the Lakers out, I think they still have a chance to get it together. The return of Andrew Bynum after the next two games should lend a great big, helping hand, but so would a commitment to a greater, and more collective, defensive effort.