It was an all-too-familiar scene, and we’ve witnessed it in the last two games – the Lakers unable to get anything going offensively so it turns into a whole lot of Kobe Bryant and very little of everyone else. When that has to happen, the end result is not always a favorable one for the Lakers and tonight was no exception as a second 2-game losing streak this season has emerged.
There is more bad than good to report from this game. For one, scoring droughts hindered the Lakers tonight. It took almost four minutes before they scored on Matt Barnes’ (7 points on 3-6) layup in the second quarter (he actually scored the team’s first seven points of that quarter) and almost four minutes before a made field goal in the third on Lamar Odom’s layup. The best offensive team in the league, the Lakers shot just 39% in this game. And the best three-point shooting team in the NBA, the Lakers went 7-23 from behind the arc. Shooting slumps will happen and there isn’t cause to stir panic now, but the problem for the team tonight wasn’t simply missed shots, it was their lack of ball movement.
In both the Utah and tonight’s game, the Lakers were beaten in two categories in which they excel – assists and rebounds. With Bryant leading the way, assists were indeed scarce because he ran isolation plays for the majority of his scoring, but before he went on his offensive raid, the team still couldn’t, or maybe chose not to, run any sets. With little to no ball movement, the Lakers created nothing but empty possessions. Pair that with poor offensive rebounding and they had scarcely any second chance opportunities to score. The Pacers’ second chance points? 19 big ones.
As wrong as it is to depend on Bryant (41 points on 14-33, five rebounds, four assists) to shoulder the offensive load, it was and is spectacular to watch when the Mamba is let loose. Just as he did in Utah, Bryant found ways to score from just about anywhere, against just about anybody, with however much or little was left on the clock. He hit two free throws, then hit a three. He hit another pair of free throws, then followed that with a three again. A stepback fadeaway here, another free throw there, and a driving over the right shoulder layup to end his 15-point quarter…simply amazing.
Unfortunately, Bryant was about the only amazing thing tonight, though Lamar Odom did get 15 points on 6-10 (2-2, 3PT), not to mention 11 rebounds. He had a satisfactory game, but did not appear as aggressive as he did when the season began, and part of it might be fatigue. He played just over 40 minutes tonight.
And speaking of minutes, talk about Pau Gasol, who had 45 and half minutes of floor time and he was outplayed by Indiana’s Roy Hibbert for most of those minutes. Darko Milicic did it. Joakim Noah did it. And tonight, it was Hibbert’s turn to defend and score against the Laker forward and boy was he successful, scoring 24 points on 9-13, 12 rebounds and six assists. Gasol went just 5-15 from the field to reach his 13 points, managed to grab 12 rebounds, but he also led the game in turnovers with five. His defense, which pales in comparison to his offensive efficiency (not counting tonight, that is), has yet to appear even remotely capable of stopping anyone.
With the Lakers behind by three, Gasol couldn’t stop guard T.J. Ford from penetrating and getting to the hoop. And then, behind by a mere point, Gasol allowed Roy Hibbert an uncontested dunk to give the Pacers a lead that home team would fail to overcome. Phil Jackson cites fatigue as a source for Gasol’s struggles but it’s more than that. He’s gotten outplayed on both ends of the floor by almost every center he’s faced, and they’ve occurred not just in the end of games, but the whole game, and these opponents aren’t exactly All-Star caliber players. He has yet to face Dwight Howard or Shaquille O’Neal. Andrew Bynum’s return, whenever that is, will be a welcome sight for everyone, especially Gasol.
The bench continued its subpar play tonight. They were outscored by Indiana’s bench 24-14. As in their last loss, the reserves were barely a factor and it’s safe to say their contribution to earn wins is invaluable.
In his post-game interview, Phil Jackson said that in the very first time out called, he had to tell the team to play harder because they were getting outhustled by the Pacers. It’s a real shame the coach feels the need to remind a 2-time defending Championship team to play harder and one hopes it’s not a request that the coaching staff has to make again for the rest of this season.
The Lakers are off to Memphis to play the Grizzlies on Tuesday. Maybe a game against his brother, Marc, will light a fire under Pau Gasol to play tougher. If he continues to struggle defensively, don’t think for a second that “soft” label will delay its return.
Pre-game Thoughts: Shake off the Utah loss. That game was fraught with error from various sources. Time to check Danny Granger and the Pacers.
Half-time Thoughts: 51-45 – The Lakers barely played in the first half. They’re getting outrebounded, they’re not moving the ball and they just don’t look interested in playing properly. Kobe leading all scores with 18 on 6-14. Pau Gasol with just six points on 3-8. Lamar Odom 4-4 (2-2 from 3PT) with 10 points.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Pau Gasol – He began the season so confident and so solid but there’s no denying how remedial his defense has turned.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant – He did everything he could to help the Lakers get a win, but he needed help and help never came.