112-118 loss at Denver.
116-121 loss versus Phoenix.
96-102 loss at Utah.
92-95 loss versus Indiana.
96-98 loss at Memphis.
Five losses with an average point margin of 4.4 and a scoring average of 102.4. One could look at these Lakers losses thus far and claim that a) They’ve never been blown out and b) They’ve still managed to score 90+ points in each game. It’s only been 18 games into a still longer season and it’s true – there’s no need to panic. But the picture these close losses paint is not only that the Lakers weren’t dominated over, it’s that they COULD HAVE won but didn’t.
Except maybe for the game in which Phoenix shot their historic 22-three-pointers, the Lakers were in a position to win all of these games. They had leads in all of them; a whopping 19-point lead against Utah, but they lost because from a lack of defensive effort and because they went away from one of their greatest strengths – ball movement.
Memphis point guard, Mike Conley, averages just over 14 points a game and tonight he scored 28 points on 10-13. Talk about efficient. He also hit 4-5 from behind the arc, but it wasn’t his perimeter game that did the Lakers in. He managed to score from inside time and again. If it wasn’t Kobe Bryant opening up the floor for Conley, it was every other Laker charged with defending the paint but failing miserably. The Grizzlies made about nine layups in this game too, and by various players.
There remains to be a disconnect among the Lakers defensively; a lack of communication causing delayed or missed rotations, giving the opposing team a myriad of wide open scoring opportunities. The presence of Andrew Bynum continues to be mentioned as a solution to the Lakers’ defensive woes, but a successful defensive system is not reliant on one player. Yes, Bynum is another large body inside and he can be considered a more proficient shot-blocker than Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom, but the line of defense doesn’t begin around the paint, it begins farther out. Every player is not only responsible for the offensive intentions of the player they’re guarding, but how those intentions affect the rest of the opposing players.
The offense, Kobe Bryant (29 points on 9-25, seven rebounds, five assists) has said after the last few losses, is not the Lakers’ problem at this point and he’s right, the Lakers are a prolific scoring team – when they run their offense properly. In the first half, the Lakers had just seven assists on 17 made field goals and had already accumulated eight turnovers. When they move the ball efficiently, bringing it inside to Pau Gasol (15 points on 5-13, 14 rebounds), spacing themselves correctly, they create higher percentage shots around the rim or rhythm three-pointers that are more likely to go in over last second attempts with the clock running out. In the last three losses, the Lakers’ ball movement has been anything but efficient and free-flowing. It’s been stagnant.
Phil Jackson mentioned in his post-game interview that lately, Kobe Bryant has been more aggressive offensively because he’s seen the reluctance in his teammates. Lamar Odom attempted one jump shot in the entire first quarter and didn’t score his first points until late in the second. He finished with just eight points on 3-7 and 11 rebounds. Has that fire we saw in the first dozen games already fizzled out of him?
Tomorrow the Lakers face a scrappy Houston team who almost beat them on opening night. Here’s hoping they accomplish not only by winning, but by winning their signature way – running their offensive sets, getting even contribution from all players and most of all, solid defense. Faltering on any will result in nothing but loss number six.
Pre-game Thoughts: Please avoid a 3-game losing streak.
Half-time Thoughts: 49-51 – Kobe Bryant leading all scores with 19, but the rest of the Lakers have yet to contribute. There’s no ball movement, with just seven assists on 17 made field goals and already with eight turnovers. This is the same team who won those first 13 games.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: This was a team loss; a thoughtless team loss with the Lakers still lacking in defense and reducing their offensive efficiency by going away from their dependable passing.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: The Grizzlies’ Mike Conley, who averages 14 points a game but managed to score 28 on 10-13 from the field.