Every sport, at their core, has simple goals and strategies. For basketball, it’s getting the ball in the hoop and preventing the other team from doing the same. The team who can do both, or at the very least one of these things, better than the other wins. The Lakers, in five regular season games, have been good at both just once – the first game where they blew out the Clippers. Since then they have gotten blown out by Golden State and Dallas, outsmarted and outhustled against the Spurs, and barely won by the skin of their teeth versus Atlanta. So far we’ve learned one thing about this team, and that’s that they don’t take to simplicity well.
After giving up 35 points to the Mavericks in the first quarter, while only able to score 22 themselves, the Lakers continued to make decisions contrary to the solution that could have won them this game. Down 16 points in the second quarter and running ahead with the ball, by all means, Pau Gasol, shoot a three in transition (miss). Down by 30 points in the third quarter after Jose Calderon hit a three, Jordan Farmar pulls for a jumper (again, miss). The Lakers were raining bricks on Dallas tonight, opting always for the low-percentage shot over the inside game that provides a better chance to score.
For a second time this season, the Lakers looked lost from every corner of the court, and the Mavericks took advantage, taking the 123-104 victory.
Monta Ellis – 30 points on 11-14 from the field, a perfect 8-8 from the free throw line and six rebounds. Once a scorer, always a scorer and Ellis is one of the league’s prolific ones. Not known for his three-point shot, Ellis scored most from mid-range and inside, often beating his man off the dribble and heading in for a layup. No Steve Blake or Nick Young could stop him tonight.
Nick Young – Speaking of Nick Young, he couldn’t stop Ellis, but he did what he could on the offensive end, going 8-12 from the field for his team-leading 21 points. Coming off the bench seems to have aided Young in his offensive struggles as a starter.
Defense – Where to begin with the defense? How about zero, because there was none on the perimeter (13-27 from downtown for the Mavs) and none whatsoever inside the arc either (52-36 advantage for Dallas in the paint). The Mavs strolled so easily and so often to the basket for layups and dunks that the Lakers may have well just sat out. Communication is important on the offensive end, but it is even more so vital on defense, and the Lakers are not heeding.
No Rebounds, No Rings – The Lakers played all thirteen dressed players tonight, and three had absolutely no boards (Young, Shawne Williams, who only played about five minutes, and Steve Blake). Pau Gasol, a historically good rebounder, had just eight boards in 31 minutes, which wouldn’t seem so disappointing if not for the rest of his team barely fighting for rebounds themselves. Dallas grabbed 50 rebounds to the Lakers’ 35. With all the shots they missed, they could have given themselves more chances to score, but chose not to bother.
Lack of Leadership – Kobe Bryant on the sidelines, advising teammates during the game, shows more leadership in a suit than the veterans on this team who are out there on the floor. When your team has cut the lead from 30 points to just 12, where’s the leader to help close the gap even further? Who, out there, will barrel themselves to the basket to score and be fouled? Who is going to run plays to get the other players involved in the surge? Who is going to rebound every miss, contest every shot and play defense? It’s easy to point the finger at Mike D’Antoni, and to a certain extent the Lakers’ coaching staff, when the team plays as listless as they did tonight. But at a certain point in the game, and the early season while Bryant isn’t playing, there has to be someone else who will step up and be that guy. There is no Derek Fisher on this team to back up Bryant, but there is Gasol. Nash is a veteran leader and D’Antoni’s guy, true, but this isn’t his team. While Bryant is re-conditioning for his return, Gasol needs to take the reigns on this team. He needs to shoulder the load. He needs to lead the way, and 10 points on 4-9 from the field, with eight rebounds, four assists and zero blocks is not the way to do it.
Each morning, I start my day with a simple request: Make good choices. It’s time the Lakers (players and coaches alike) start asking the same of themselves. They’re making the game harder than it has to be by making disappointing and baffling decisions on the court. Keep the game simple. Field goal percentage down? Take higher percentage attempts. Getting outrebounded? Rebound more. Have a size advantage? Feed it inside. Opponents scoring too easily, communicate on defense.
This Laker team has shown their potential, even without an active Kobe Bryant. But they can’t seem to show it in consecutive efforts. Fortunately for them, there are still 77 games to go.