The Lakers have been a topic of conversation in the NBA lately, and not because of anything they’re doing right; mostly because of everything they’re doing wrong. The Lakers have been criticized often for being soft, apathetic or lacking effort on defense, but the one area they’ve always been able to fall back on to squeak out a win is their prolific offense.
The last few games, however, paint a different picture, and though they shot 51% in the loss to Miami and 49.4% tonight against Phoenix, they shot just 36.2% in Charlotte and 37.5% in Orlando.
One bad shooting night is not unheard of in the NBA. It’s a long season after all, but to have two brick-tossing games in a row in the year they are defending a title? Unacceptable. Is the stagnant offense dumbfounding and a bit concerning? Yes. Is it irreparable? No.
Kobe Bryant, reported to have arrived more than two hours before the game to shoot around, scored 21 points from only 16 attempted shots. Playing against the highest-scoring team in the NBA, the Lakers needed to pull out every scoring weapon they had in the armory and Kobe, their sharpest shooter, had to be on point.
Scoring first in the game on a turnaround followed by an and-1, Kobe’s game face was just as it was after his game-winning shot against Toronto — focused and very businesslike.
With 17 games left before the playoffs, and with two teams hovering over their first place seat in the Western Conference, Kobe is done having his fun and some of his teammates seemed to follow suit.
Andrew Bynum, coming off a 22-point game against the Raptors, was as active on both sides of the court as he’s ever been. On one Suns’ possession, he forced Steve Nash baseline, and upon his pass to a cutting Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrew, alert, rotated quickly to alter the shot attempt. Suns miss. Laker ball.
Offensively, Andrew may have only scored 18 points on 8-12 shooting (dwarfing compared to his higher-scoring feats in the past), but it was his way of scoring that was comforting. He went after offensive rebounds (5 of his 9 boards), he dunked on every opportunity he could, and hit his hook shots when they were available to him. Never one to create aesthetically pleasing shot attempts, Andrew scored definitively and we can only hope that this is not another teaser into the “what could be when he gets older,” but a taste of “what he WILL be” come mid-April.
All the starters scored in double figures tonight, with Derek Fisher and Ron Artest contributing a combined six shots from downtown. Pau had a good all-around game, but there is still something lacking in his play, both offensively and defensively.
At one point in the game, Pau met Amar’e on the other side and was called for a blocking foul, which resulted in a 3-point play for the Suns. Andrew was seen raising his arms up, either frustrated with the call or frustrated with Pau for not knowing any better. If you’re not going to take the charge, then contest the shot and make Amar’e earn two points from the free throw line.
Where Andrew is not interested in good-looking field goal attempts, Pau is the opposite, often choosing lay-ups and short-distance jump shots even when a higher-percentage dunk and a possible and-1 is available to him. Pau doesn’t need to be a defensive or offensive powerhouse or genius, but he can’t cower the way he did so often tonight to the likes of Amundson, who continually beat him to rebounds and flew by for quick lay-ups and putbacks. Amundson, who averages 4.5 rpg and 4.2 ppg, but got 10 and 11 tonight on Pau’s watch.
This 102-96 win was much needed for the Lakers, especially considering how well Phoenix plays on their home court. On a night where Alvin Gentry’s ejection (and for understandable reason as Pau’s hard foul might’ve been considered a flagrant) could have fueled a Suns win, and where six players struggled through hand injuries, the Lakers got the victory, and there was no need for Kobe’s last second keenness.
From where they stand, there is no time to monitor how well Dallas or Denver is playing. The Lakers are the masters of only their own fate. How far into the spring and summer they play is entirely up to them, because HOW they play from this late in the regular season will be a good indication of their effort and intensity when the real season begins.
Pre-game Thoughts: 0-3 in the previous road trip. Hopefully this next one starts out on a more positive note.
Half-time Thoughts: Great 20-6 run to end the first half! Hopefully it’s something they’ll build on.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Yes he got his 15 points on 7-11 shooting, along with eight rebounds, four blocks, three assists and two steals, and yes that hard foul on Amundson to prevent an easy two points was kind of a pleasant surprise from someone so mild-mannered, but something’s not right with Pau these days. He has appeared lazy on D, slow to rotate to his man, and no lift whatsoever. Hmmm…
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant, and not because of any buzzer beaters. He led in practically every stat – most points (21 points on 7-16), most rebounds (10), most assists (8) and highest +/- (+15) Mamba came to play tonight!