Unpredictable, this season’s Laker team. At times, we marvel at their intelligence, their savvy and their will to win. Unforgettable road victories against rival Boston, a strong Utah squad and a veteran Spurs group were enough to keep the doubters at bay. Other times, however, we are bewildered by their ignorance, apathy and arrogance. Embarrassing losses to Cleveland at home, against a young and energetic Oklahoma City team, and now this, a loss to a New Orleans team who isn’t even Playoff worthy.
Phil Jackson’s hope for a 5-0 road trip were lost when the Thunder showed the Lakers the magnitude of their talent and undeniable drive. What some considered a small blemish to a Western Conference leading record after a strong win against Houston, is now, again, a serious source of concern for anyone remotely tied to this Lakers team.
A 4-1 road record would have sufficed, if not for the lowly Hornets, who have nothing to play for, but beat a Lakers team who used to look like they had something to play for. That loss to the Thunder, and tonight to the Hornets (among other 18 losses), showed one thing — this Lakers team is eight games away from the Playoffs and they still haven’t figured themselves out.
The game appeared well-handled in the first quarter with Pau Gasol and Ron Artest scoring the majority of the Lakers’ points. Pau was especially aggressive offensively, snatching offensive rebounds for second chance points and making the Hornets defense pay with his quickness and length. With 26 points and 22 rebounds, it appeared early on that Pau was going to carry this team to a victory.
Kobe, double-teamed often as soon as he touched the ball, didn’t force himself into his offense, choosing instead to find open men like Pau, for easy attempts. Kobe ended the evening with a valiant 31 points and 6 assists, though he would have collected more dimes had teammates like Derek Fisher, hit wide open threes.
Ron Artest chipped in 14 points and Lamar Odom had a quiet 10-8 game. Other than these four starters, however, no one else in a Laker uniform contributed much. There was a disparate contribution in scoring, small but vain offerings of defense, no energy, and no purpose on the floor. But the heat was there… in the form of frustration.
Phil has been calling timeouts sooner than he usually does, refusing to trust his team to figure themselves out. The game was filled with blown defensive assignments for the Lakers and in one timeout, after a David West uncontested dunk, Phil was so angry, he yelled before any players on the floor even approached the bench. The frustration in the coaching staff’s faces is obvious, even in short glances on TV. Between Brian Shaw and Sasha Vujacic’s reported scuffle, to Phil having no words to explain his team’s inability to play with a concerted effort, what this team needs right now is something they cannot have — more time.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Lakers got to within six points, having previously trailed by 17, after a Jordan Farmar lay-up and a putback by Kobe after the missed free throw by Jordan. The win was more than attainable, but the Lakers seemed to be missing their fight. After the 5th foul call on Kobe, he approached the bench and introduced his fist to the chair. Was it because of the foul he didn’t agree with? The missed opportunity to close in and take the game? Yes and yes, and who could blame him?
It appears the Lakers have found something in common with two of their rivals, the San Antonio Spurs and the Boston Celtics. When they win, they often win convincingly, a veteran team who knows how it’s done. They’re regaled, headlines with the terms “comeback” and “hitting their stride” are written in their favor. When they lose, they’re called old, overrated and are compared to the flashier, younger teams of Orlando, Cleveland and Atlanta.
With eight games left in the regular season, and the playoffs looming right behind, the Lakers have to choose which team we’ll be writing and talking about when the NBA season ends — the old and apathetic players who think they can just get by this time around, or the defending Champion veteran team who fights for every game they play? Hopefully, it’s the latter.
Pre-game Thoughts: More quick point guards… great.
Half-time Thoughts: Lakers have to play catch up… AGAIN.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Bench — outscored by the Hornets’ bench 41-12. There are 8 games left in the season. When are you boys going to show your worth to this team?
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant, with 31 points, 6 assists and five rebounds, seemed to be the only one fighting for his team.