No long winning streaks at the end of the season could do it. Being blown out of arenas wasn’t cutting it either. Inspirational talks by Derek Fisher? Check. The return of Kobe Bryant’s shooting prowess? Check. Exciting buzzer beating victories to highlight their season? Check. What is there left to do for this team to just play… well?
Are injuries the greatest factor in this team’s demise, really? It’s true that the Lakers have experienced more than their fair share of injuries this season, to half the players on their roster, and at different times and for various lengths in the season.
On this road trip, however, they’re missing only two players to injury — Luke Walton, who has been out for months, and Andrew Bynum, who has been out for 5 games but, in essence, is not an unfamiliar situation. Injuries certainly don’t help a team’s strength, but they don’t have to weaken it either.
In the first quarter against the Hawks, the Lakers looked alert, energetic and ready to play. Ron Artest hounded his prey for the evening, Joe Johnson, and Kobe wasted no time, taking grasp of his offensive opportunities at will. It was obvious early in the game, however, that win or lose, the Lakers would suffer from another opponents’ perimeter shooting capabilities. The most discouraging sight was just how open those shooters were.
The Lakers (maybe until this road trip) rank first in defending the three-point shot. Tonight, however, they showed just how flawed that stat must to be. Atlanta’s shooters appeared to be open every single time they made an attempt from downtown. They made 9-22 for 41%, but defense against the three (or defense in general) was not the only issue.
The Atlanta Hawks are team of young veteran players and a well-seasoned coach. They have the third best record in the east and are filled to the brim with the talents of Joe Johnson (25 points, 8 assists), Josh Smith (12 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists), and the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, Jamal Crawford (14 points).
What they and their team showed tonight, on the floor, on the bench, is something the Lakers haven’t shown in a long while – enthusiasm.
Yes, the Lakers collected 17 assists on 33 made field goals and had only 11 turnovers, a vast improvement from previous games.
Pau Gasol started strong, finished with a double-double, 16 points and 11 rebounds. Jordan Farmar, in a welcome, though belated surge, hit 4 three-pointers to finish the evening with 16 points. Though Kobe was not technically “alone” in this game, however, there is something so obviously “wrong” with this Lakers team. They appear, lately, too tired to fight back.
Is that it? They’re tired after such a long season? Are they feeling discouraged? The team of a year ago would stare down these injuries, feelings of fatigue, and doubt. The Lakers of last season numbed themselves to pain, ignored their tired bodies, and turned a deaf ear and blind eye to any evidence of doubt. This season’s team? It’s hard to decipher.
Before the game, John Ireland interviewed Derek Fisher and, in kinder words, asked him, “What’s wrong with you guys?” Derek replied, “Anything that you try to accomplish or achieve that is of such a high nature, what is considered to be great, there is going to be adversity, there is going to be struggle. And those that have gotten the job done, are the ones that could still see the mission through it.”
Mission? Check. Adversity, struggle? Check. Achievement of a high nature? To be determined.
Pre-game Thoughts: Must. Stay. Positive.
Half-time Thoughts: 45-55 Hawks. Kobe — 20, Rest of Team – 25
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Let’s not go there.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant, again, for trying to compensate for his teammates, finished with 28 points and 4 assists.