Staying Positive

Kurt —  January 29, 2007

Some welcome home from vacation, watching the loss to the Bobcats on TiVo Sunday morning then the Spurs game right afterward — two painful overtime losses.

As much as we want to react to those two losses with some shakeup, we need to take a deep breath and look at the big picture. Right now the Lakers should be all about building toward the postseason. In the West (and the entire NBA, really) I see it this way: There are the Suns and Mavericks on one level, then on the next step down are the Spurs, Lakers, Rockets and Jazz (maybe a top team from the east fits in this tier, but I have a hard time putting top-seed Washington in this group).

So for the Lakers, it’s about growth with this team for this season, and then beyond. Which is why right now we have to put up with some things that are hard to watch.

That starts with Smush and his play in big games. It didn’t take me long after my vacation to get back into being frustrated with him — on the first Laker possession of the Spurs game he takes the ball to the hole 1-on-3 and gets his shot stuffed.

Defensively, if you look at the entire game you can say he did a good job on Parker (who shot just 6 of 17 and had a 0 +/- for the game). But when it mattered, in the fourth quarter and overtime, Tony Parker was 4 of 7, with 5 free throws, and was +12. He abused Smush on some crossovers and high screens, and at other points Smush just lost him in the half court defense (specifically on the overtime, Smush sleeps on Parker who slips backdoor for the quick reverse lay-up that ends in a foul).

But here’s what bothered me most — it clearly got to Smush and he lost his head. I had hoped he had matured, but when faced with adversity he felt the need to establish himself and prop up his ego rather than run the offense. At one point in the overtime that led to a nice pull-up jumper (the only shot Smush made in the fourth quarter or overtime) but a couple minutes later, after Tony Parker’s crossover on the fast break froze him, Smush tried to make up for it by ignoring the half court offense and driving to the hole despite good defense. The result was an ugly forced shot that nearly missed everything.

It’s hard to watch the Laker offense run through Smush late, particularly when it runs so much better through Kobe. But now is the time to do it, even if it costs us a game or two, because we’ll need him come playoff time. I still feel Smush is really best an NBA backup point guard, but right now he’s what we’ve got. (Farmar may get there, but he’s not there now.)

One thing that surprised me was the starting of Radmanovic instead of Cook. Radman shot a very good 61.1% (eFG%) for the game and had the key late three, but he was a team worst -12. Meanwhile, the Lakers made most of their big second quarter run with the starting five save for Cook in for Radman. Right now, the team plays better with Cook in the game.

But the Lakers will need Radman come the playoffs. Better to get his confidence and comfort in the offense up now.

For all the frustration of the last couple games there are a lot of positives — for one Odom looks good, and you can see the dimensions he brings to the game like the several times he grabbed the ball and took it the length for a lay-up.

And the Lakers made some good defensive decisions. On the game-winning shot by the Spurs, well, I’d rather take my chances with Finley shooting a deep three than with Duncan, Parker or Ginobli taking just about any shot. Finley hit it, more power to him.

Those last two games the kind of losses that can harden a team for the playoffs. Maybe some of the mistakes won’t be repeated next time — and the team will hit some free throws. Do that and we will pick up some wins when it matters more than January.