Well they had to lose SOME TIME, right? But did they have to lose this way, after a 38-point second quarter and a double digit lead established in the third? Did it have to happen on another Kobe Bryant milestone day, in which he became the youngest player to score 26,000+ points? Did it have to happen on a night that Boston put their second beatdown on Miami and on the Heat’s home floor? Losing is never acceptable or easy, but it’s the way the Lakers lost tonight that’s bothersome – they lost a game that was in their hands to win.
It wasn’t as if the Lakers were mauled in Denver. Carmelo Anthony (32 points on 14-25, 13 rebounds) was the only Nugget who scored more than 18points and no one had any career-defining scoring sprees. The home team never even gained a double digit lead. The Lakers lost this game because A) They thought a 14-point lead in the third quarter was a signal to keep shooting the threeball instead of moving it to attain better quality shots; B) They continually allowed Denver to roll to the hoop with ne’er a gold jersey in sight to stop them; and C) The two players who helped carry/lead the team in the first eight wins chose tonight to stop being aggressive.
The Lakers got their offense by moving the ball in the first half. They had 13 assists on 22 made field goals and had only five turnovers. There was a Pau-led fast break that resulted in a Matt Barnes layup. That was followed by a Kobe-assisted three-pointer from Shannon Brown (19 points on 7-14). In another fast break sequence, Brown weaved in and through Nuggets traffic before passing to Barnes for another layup. And to cap off the second quarter, Bryant threw a lightning-quick pass to Derek Fisher who drilled another three.
With just under eight minutes to play in the third quarter, the Lakers’ 77-63 lead could have, should have, been the beginning of the end for Denver. It was a double-digit advantage that the visiting team should have built on, but instead they played carelessly and mindlessly, jacking up three after three (9-29 from downtown) and failing to rebound missed shots. One 16-0 run by Denver later and it was over for the visitors.
The Lakers’ defense has been in question the last few games, and tonight has been the best showcase of its lack of execution. The prevalence of dribble penetration by the likes of Ty Lawson (17 points on 5-10) was glaring. There was an obvious lack of defensive presence in the paint, especially with Pau Gasol on Nene, and Denver had no choice but to take advantage.
Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, the Lakers’ versatile big men, collected 32 rebounds, but were a combined 7-23 from the field for 20 points. Both are able to shoot from beyond the paint, but when shots aren’t falling from there, as they didn’t tonight for Gasol and Odom, they decided to continue settling for jumpers and off-balance attempts, rather than just attacking the basket. If foul trouble were the reason, their lack of aggressiveness would have been understood, but Odom finished with two fouls and Gasol ended the game with three – hardly a cause steer clear of contact.
Maybe fatigue is finally setting in for Gasol, who has been logging on extra heavy minutes in Andrew Bynum’s absence. If that’s the case, then the young center’s return cannot come soon enough. It cannot be overstated what a significant part of the Lakers’ success is on the shoulders of Gasol and Odom, regardless of Bynum’s presence (or lack thereof), but neither showed any aggressiveness towards either end of the court tonight and the team was clearly affected.
It’s the first loss of the season, and it certainly won’t be the last. Even two-time defending champions need a good kick in the behind every now and then to keep the hunger and the need to improve alive. Let’s just hope maintaining the hunger doesn’t require losses, at least not too often.
Pre-game Thoughts: Since Portland didn’t do the trick, let’s get a take 2 – THIS should be the Lakers’ first real challenge.
Half-time Thoughts: 64-59: The lead has gone back and forth between the Lakers and the Nuggets – it’s a nce, competitive game so far. Ron Artest is leading the way with 15 points and Kobe Bryant has 12 points. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom have yet to affect this game.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: The Lakers, for giving away a win.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant – Yes, he took a lot of shots, but when the two teammates who were helping him with the heavy lifting in the first eight games (Gasol and Odom) suddenly decide to mess with what’s working, what’s the captain to do but take over?