There’s been a lot of talk regarding playoff seeds and home court advantage lately; lots of discussion in the NBA media about whether or not the Lakers would still manage to survive through a whole conference if they opened the first round away from Staples Center. Based on where and how they’ve been losing lately, it appears that not even home court is a safe place for the Lakers anymore. They lost by 19 to Milwaukee, 15 to Miami and 19 to the Memphis Grizzlies, who were on the second night of a back to back. All were pathetic, embarrassing losses. All took place in Downtown L.A. Home court advantage in the playoffs? At this point in the season, that should be the very LEAST of these Lakers’ worries.
This team just doesn’t seem to get it and Phil Jackson and the coaching staff have been reduced to reminding this veteran-laden group time and again that they are first and foremost an INSIDE TEAM that thrives on proper ball movement. Why the team has to constantly be reminded of their biggest advantage over the majority of the league is beyond explanation. Let’s face it – this isn’t rocket science. Three trips to the NBA finals and two championship seasons, all due to their size, offensive system, defensive intensity and veteran poise – there are no trick questions on these exams, especially in a home game against a sub-.500 team.
After scoring six points in the first few minutes of the first quarter, Pau Gasol scored two in the third and two more in the fourth. He attempted just nine shots for the game and converted five. And how many assists did the NBA’s best-passing big man hand out? ZERO, to go with his donut on free throws and five turnovers. Yes, Gasol can certainly score, but him getting touches isn’t just about the points. Against New Orleans he only had 11 points from 3-5, but he also had 12 rebounds and handed out five assists. It’s so glaringly obvious how different this Lakers team is when Gasol is having a productive/not-so-productive night.
The same can be said of Lamar Odom who, after being so active on both ends of the floor this season, scored just seven points off the bench to go with his seven rebounds. There were a more than a few instances where he just drove to the hoop to score, and Memphis couldn’t do a thing about it. If Odom did that all night, the Lakers wouldn’t lose…ever.
It’s also glaringly obvious what dangers lie in depending on Kobe Bryant to pick the team up on his own. In the first half, Bryant had just six points. After the Lakers got behind by nine at the half, and then suddenly by 13, Bryant went to work, rattling off 17 of his 28 points in the third quarter alone, and at one point, bringing the Lakers within two points after Memphis had taken a 13-point lead early in the half. It was another spectacular show by Bryant, but after his teammates watched him take over, they basically took themselves out of contention and it showed. Bryant attempted 22 field goals. No other Laker attempted more than nine shots for the game.
They started to turn the ball over even more after Bryant’s scoring surge, and before they knew it, the Memphis lead had ballooned to 20 points. The Lakers actually shot at a higher percentage than the Grizzlies. The difference? The Lakers had 10 turnovers at the half and collected 10 more for their 20 turnovers for the game. At one point in the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies had a 26-6 advantage in the fast break points, surely helped by the Lakers’ giveaways.
Ron Artest and the Lakers coaching staff might want to re-think or re-tool their defensive strategy. Rudy Gay, checked most often by Artest, went off for 27 points on 10-19. Artest has not been himself this season. Offensive struggles aside, it’s his inability to play lockdown defense that’s a concern. He hasn’t been able to smother much of anyone yet. Despite defense being a team effort, Artest is usually the one who sets the tone on that end of the floor and he has yet to do it on a consistent basis.
Andrew Bynum was the one bright spot in today’s game. He played just under 26 minutes, had nine points, 11 rebounds and five blocks! That he survived a game in January against the Memphis Grizzlies is something to cheer for, in and of itself. However, it’s no use having a big guy like Bynum on the floor if he is not going to get the ball inside to either score or run the offense. He, too, attempted just eight shots, converting on four.
Too many turnovers (20), not enough ball movement (just 13 assists on 33 made field goals), out-rebounded (44-37). Just when we thought the Lakers couldn’t play any worse than they had towards the end of the year, tonight happened. Still worrying about home court advantage in April? Don’t.
Pre-game Thoughts: Let’s start the New Year with a win!
Half-time Thoughts: 48-39 – The Lakers are shooting 47% compared to the Grizzlies 42%. Why are they behind by nine points? Because they’re being just plain careless with the ball – 10 turnovers already, while Memphis has just four. The bright spot for the Lakers at the half is Andrew Bynum, who’s got seven points, seven rebounds and five blocks!
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Turnovers and effort – too much of one, not enough of the other for the Lakers.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Memphis Grizzlies, for sticking it to the defending champs each time they play them. And Andrew Bynum for playing relatively well…and for coming out of a January game against the Grizzlies still intact.