Looking At Losing Streak

Kurt —  January 28, 2008

Some thoughts on the three game losing streak and life without Bynum, and about the Lakers missing some of the easy baskets they used to get.

• The last three games have been at a slower pace than the Lakers like — each of them at 91 possessions a game, 5 fewer than the Laker average. And in those games, particularly against the Cavs, the Lakers looked good in transition off Cavs misses (some pretty passes and lay-ups in the first have quickly come to mind). Without Bynum the Lakers need those easy points. And the break is triggered by good defense.

While we’re talking break, before Bynum got hurt the Lakers got a lot of points on what one of my old coach called the “secondary break” — getting points from the late trailers on the break or recognizing that the defense had to pick up different men and exploiting a mismatch. Early in the third quarter the Lakers got a couple of those but they need to do better at this more consistently. Bynum, in transition, used to trail the play down and set the high pick for Kobe (or sometimes Fisher) and when Bynum rolled to the basket hard the Lakers got a lot of great looks and fun dunks. Those are gone, Kwame and Turiaf can’t make those plays, and the Lakers miss those points.

• It’s all about the defense — on the season the Lakers have a defensive rating of 106 (points surrendered per 100 possessions) but in the last six games five teams have bested that number. (Ironically, the only team that didn’t was the Suns.) Shooting is part of that, the Lakers allow opposing teams to shoot 48% (eFG%) for the season and four of the last six games since Bynum went down a team bested that percentage (and the Cavs were just barely behind it), But also in the last three games the Lakers have created fewer turnovers (which refers back to the transition points from the point above).

• As has been obvious; the Lakers offense also has been slowed without Drew (and Radmaovic). The Lakers have fallen below their season average of 111.9 (points per 100 possessions) in five of their last six games. That includes a 104.4 against the Cavs. Again shooting is part of it but what the Lakers are missing are some of those easy put back baskets — on the season the team has grabbed 26.3% of its misses, but without Bynum’s long arms that fell to 21.4% against the Cavs, 15.2% against the Mavs.

Some other thoughts from the Cavs game.

• Games between big stars like Kobe and LeBron often come down to which guy has the better supporting cast. Yesterday, the Lakers didn’t have anyone as good as Larry Hughes. And that hurts to say.

• Phil Jackson got some heat in the comments for inserting Kwame for Luke with about 8 minutes to go and the Lakers up nine — when the Cavs started their late run. I think Phil did it to match up with Big Z, but Kwame was horrible for those seconds he was in there. However, when he came out, the Cavs scored the next two trips down because Odom chased the ball and let Larry Hughes run alone to the basket, then because Hughes pushed the pace and Turiaf was the only guy to try to pick him up, and he did it out above the free throw line and couldn’t keep up with him. Those are not on Kwame or Phil, that’s bad team defense.

• Speaking of bad team defense: :Late in the game, Lamar Odom was way late to a pick-and-roll, let alone trying to show out, that gave LeBron a lay-up. Next trip down Turiaf was slow to switch on Larry Hughes, another basket. However, the Cavs defense at the end did a good job of trying to take the ball out of Kobe’s hands. Commenter Bill Bridges said it well:

A striking difference in the ball game was how the two teams chose to defend the stars with the game on the line. The CAVS doubled Kobe high immediately to get the ball out his hands (resulting in a weak, lazy pass back to Luke with LJ running at him). Kobe checked LeBron one-on-one. As sad it is to write (as it was to watch), it was painfully easy for LeBron to look Kobe off to his left, take one dribble to his right and get a very good look at the hoop. I think LeBron would get this look against any one defender in the history of the league (that’s why no team would cover him one-on-one).

Kurt

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28 responses to Looking At Losing Streak

  1. Good summary Kurt, especially your emphasis on some overlooked factors. I would note one thing, though, about the Cav defense on Kobe for the final nine seconds: they could afford to key on Kobe because Phil only had one other 3-pt shooter in the game (Fisher). A lineup with Kobe, Fish, Sasha, and Farmar as the 3-pt shooters and Ronny as the screener would have been harder to stop. Every one of those four shooters are not tentative about putting up shots during crunch time. The coaching staff knows this, and yet the lineup that was put out there last night was the one chosen. This is what drives us crazy. Phil is not trying to win individual games, because he believes the lessons learned from adversity in the regular season will pay off in the postseason.

    The point of view of many of the commenters is that successful, situation-specific substitutions will give the Lakers more regular-season wins, leading to greater confidence in the playoffs when similar situations develop. More wins in the regular season also translates into increased confidence of Kobe in his teammates, and a lower likelihood of Kobe going off on the front office again.

  2. Kobe won’t go off on the front office. He made that clear in his interview with Stephen A. Smith and explained that he understand his best chance to win again is in LA. With a healthy Bynum and a full roster the Lakers have the opportunity to make it deep into the playoffs, and Kobe has mentioned that a few times already.

    Stop worrying everyone, let the team learn how to win today, and win tomorrow. We are still in the playoffs today and need to worry about how to improve rather than win. When Houston starts to play better than LA is when i’ll start to worry as well.

  3. Thanks for the props Kurt!

    The other defensive point (relatd to the “Bynum Effect” as you point out) I would add is that the weak side back court defender is cheating off his man more than he should. This has happened regularly when the offensive player penetrates from strong to weak. The net result is that both Vujacic Farmar left Barry open on the weak side leading to 3′s. And Vujacic left Terry open for a crucial 3 at the end of the game. The weakside guard’s defensive positioning achieves nothing – neither helping out on the penetrator nor hindering the 3 point shot from his man. They really need to work on this in practice.

    Why I think it is related to the Bynum Effect is that Kwame’s teammates have lost all faith that he can anchor the defense.

  4. The dude speaks wisely.
    However I am hesitant to criticize the real PJ. The man does have 9 rings.
    Patience is in order. The Lakers will work through this slump.

  5. I’m guessing Kobe is shooting less than 40% in the 3rd and 4th quarters this season. Can anyone get that statistic?

    I love Kobe, but I am so sick of his second half bricks this season.

    I think Kobe is one of the best in the NBA but something is missing this season. It reminds me of when I watched Tiger Woods in 2000, you just knew Tiger was going to make every 6 foot putt. Then when Tiger went through swing changes, you knew Tiger wasn’t going to make those putts. Tiger is the greatest and so is Kobe, but I really don’t feel as confident when Kobe shoot anymore, particularly in the second half of games.

    Also, can we now finally agree the Lamar Odom is not going to live up to his alleged potential. Other than rebounding, I don’t know what the hell Lamar is out there doing. He really does make some bone headed plays.

    So funny how now everyone is on Bynum’s nutz……it was nice to be first on that train…

    Any of you fans still think we should start Kwame over Bynum…LOL.

  6. Our defense is what’s killing us with Luke and Kwame’s limited mobility. I’m fine with them scoring 5-10 points per night, but I am NOT fine with players scoring against them at will.

  7. We have four injured players working their way back into playing shape: Kwame, Turiaf, Walton, and Vlade. This is in addition to the three currently on the shelf. This is a miserable situation. Kwame and Walton have been back awhile, but are slow healers, and this has to be factored into our evaluation of their position on the team. These two’s abilities have to be factored down because of not only being injury prone, but being slow healers. There are indications that Trevor may also be a bit injury prone – we will have to see.

    My only real hopes now are that Vlade can get into game shape quickly and that Mbenga’s defensive abilities are real. Other than that we have to play more small ball, because Lamar simply cannot be depended upon. We should count on him for rebounds and some passing, but we cannot afford to give him the ball in critical game situations – sorry!

    From my point-of-view the above analysis makes Phil’s substitution decision at the end of the last game totally unfathomable. Don’t give me any “learning…” bs because it was a few second situational decision. Am I missing something about the abilities/physical condition of our players?

  8. Craig W..

    The truth is Kwame’s hands and decision making are no worse than they were last year. The difference is that due to his injury and ballooning weight, he’s lost the ability to hold his position in the post. Also the new charge/block rules mean that calls which last year were charges are now blocks (I can’t recall a single charge taken by Kwame this year). Hence one of the strengths of the Lakers, Kwame’s ability to play positional post defense, one-on-one, no longer exists.

    The problem is that the Lakers are still playing defense as if Kwame is last year’s version. They have to double his man, or better yet play Mbenga.

    The other problem with the Lakers is that in the key positions of PF and SF, we just are not that good. I think we have the worst starting forwards in the West and second only to the Heat in the league. Here is the list of Western Conference small forwards that I rate higher, and would take over Luke:

    Josh Howard
    Carmelo Anthony
    Stephen Jackson
    Tracy McGrady
    Corey Maggette
    Rudy Gay
    Peja Stojakovic
    Grant Hill
    Boris Diaw
    Martell Webster
    Bruce Bowen
    Jeff Green
    Ron Artest
    Andrei Kirilenko
    Travis Outlaw
    Matt Harpring

    This lists every team in the west except for Minnesota! Luke is not as good as some of the subs on this list. The only starting SF he is better than is Minnesota’s and you might still take Ryan Gomes or Corey Brewer for their superior upside.

    The answer is to play Kobe more at the 3. Limit Kwame’s time, and when he is in there, make sure you help out on his man. And pray that Ariza works on his jumper ala Fish did in 20002001 while recuperating…

  9. 8. But change that to Ariza starting at the three and the list gets smaller. I still think a healthy Walton is a good sub on a championship team, but what the Lakers are asking of him right now is too much. He was asked to cover LeBron (and, frankly, did an admirable job all things considered).

    Right now the Lakers are forced to start Luke, but I’m not the coaches or front office see him as the long term answer at the three. At least I hope not.

  10. Bill — Kwame did take a charge in the last game, but also got a blocking foul later.

    My point about Kwame was that he was still injured. If healthy, I have a little more respect for his defense than you do, but I do see your point. What I was trying to say is that both Luke and Kwame have to be rated lower than you would otherwise rate them because of both the injury prone AND the slow healing tendencies they have. For people that have no use for either of these players this will make no difference, but for those of us who do value Luke’s smarts, we have to think less of him, even if we don’t want to.

  11. I think Kobe just got outplayed by Lebron. Lebron made the plays to get them back in the game and then nailed the jumper over Kobe. While Lebron was defending him admirably in crunch time. That fadeaway brick with Lebron all over him was so forced but you could tell Kobe didn’t want to back down. And what was up with sitting Kobe down during crunch time by Phil. I guess the Zen will just have to go about it his own way. But while the Spurs are winning the championships he’s still trying to teach his team the art of losing to win. I think Phil and his staff are just buying time and making excuses until they actually have talent come back to help the team win ball games. Now if he can convert Lamar to become an all star then maybe Phil knows what he’s doing with this particular team but so far it seems like Zen & LO don’t see eye to eye.

  12. These are tough times, man.

    Right now we are basically last years team. That team finished 42-40. Sure some of the same guys who were hurt last year (Luke, LO) are healthy(er) now, but we had changed our style of play so much with the success of Bynum and the spark of Ariza that now we are a little bit worse because of our lack of rhythm. If that makes sense.

    If we can get some of last year’s early year rhythm with this group than we will be okay. But if some of our guys continue to look tentative in key moments, we are in for a rough ride.

    All that said, buck up friends. We have lost to some tough teams and that happens. We will get better and be ready to contend later in the year. This road trip is gonna be big and we face some teams that we should beat. Just gotta keep floating right now and wait for 2 of our major rotation players to get back. Although it sucks to keep on saying this every year. Injuries have been kicking our ####’s.

  13. 8. Kobe cannot defend small forwards one-on-one, and the Lakers do not play good enough team defense to be trusted to rotate and help. In the game against the Cavs you could really see how LeBron’s team defended Kobe, and how the Lakers didn’t rotate well to help on LeBron. The real key to start winning again is just to get healthy. We saw a glimpse of Vlad last game, and Turiaf, Luke and Kwame are still not a 100%. If those guys all continue to improve the Lakers should be able to hold the fort until Bynum and Ariza return. (The only problem is the if and the should in my last sentence.)

  14. 3. I’ve noticed that weakside guard problem as well, and man does that drives me nuts! Sasha in particular is guilty of this every game seemingly, but you’re right that even fish and farmar are guilty of this too often.
    4. I agree, easy on those quick to criticize PJ. I thought he was actually playing to win this game (called several quick-by-his-standards TOs), but he got frustrated by the team’s performance at the end as well and was reaching for any combo that played well. looked like he was going to let farmar finish the game again, but he made back-to-back turnovers with kobe on the bench and phil called timeout and put kobe and fish back in. i liked phil’s idea, kobe wasn’t playing well with the team (and vice-versa) and jordan is probably the best player on the team to create a shot after kobe right now. but once again he couldn’t come up big at the end. i feel he’s close, he has the confidence, just isn’t quite getting it done yet.
    8. Honestly, I think Ryan Gomes and Ime Udoka are better fits for the Lakers starting 3. Good shooters and defenders. That’s all they need from that position. And yes, if Ariza learns how to stroke a j, he’s a future all-star. kind of a big if considering his current form though.
    5, 11. This is my real concern for the Lakers come playoff time. Bobby, I’m very curious about that same stat. I’d even go one better, what his % 4th qtrs with less than 10 point differential? The Lakers have played very poorly in close games all year, even when Bynum was out there. I’m not sure if it’s entirely a trust issue, but sure, there’s that. Kobe can’t seem to find good shots, and the rest of team can’t seem to exploit defenses that double the ball out of Kobe’s hands. I do think Farmar’s our best chance in those situations to break the defense down if they trap Kobe, but he still makes a lot young player mistakes.
    12. Back to optimism for closing. We’ve had, and are going to have a real tough stretch to be without 4 rotation players. That said, lord help us if we can’t beat the Knicks at home tomorrow.

  15. we all know, knew, that we’re a dependable #2 away from contending day in and day out. Bynum, as he became that #2, had the Lakers look like championship contenders… without the #2, we’re only as good as Kobe is.

    since we’re in a state where we know we have that #2, it’s hard to mess with the rest of the pieces. You’re not gonna get a #2 with the pieces we have unless we somehow turn back time and return Kwame and get Caron back or something…

  16. Trades are not the way at this time.

    The only real value we have for others is the players who are beginning to open up. These are the very people we have to keep to contend. We may not win as much as we would like over the month of February, but I think Phil should play these players on the cusp more than he might otherwise. If their learning curve moves up, then we will be stronger later. This is the risk we have to take now. Phil must play Sasha, Farmar, Turiaf, and even Crit more than he might want to because we need them to advance faster at this time.

  17. If they play with that aggressive edge they had against Denver, both on offense and defense, they’ll be more than fine.

  18. I agree with #16. Good point Craig. The Lakers are more likely than not going to make the playoffs… I’d predict about 80%-90% to make the playoffs… therefore, when will there be a better opportunity to lose games and let the young guys grow?? If we are losing games right now anyways, and most likely going to lose to teams like Orlando, Phoenix and Detroit while our big man is down, then why not just give them away and give the young kids a shot at playing with some real competition. Worst case scenario??… we lose three games we probably would lose anyways, and allow the young guys to experience on their own how much work they truly still need to put in in order to reach all star status… I think playing Jordan and Sasha against Billups and Hamilton as well as Ronny against Mcdyss will be a very valuable lesson…

  19. ////All over sports websites people are talking about how the Cavs and LeBron James got the best of Kobe and the Lakers, Sunday. I though, have one question: did anyone other than me notice that the Los Angeles Lakers on their home court were the recipients of exactly zero foul calls at the end of the game yesterday. No call when Larry Hughes clearly hit Kobe Bryant’s forearm on a made jumper (to tie the score at 92) from the right wing. No call on Lamar Odom’s drive on the right baseline when he was smacked by Ira Newble (score, 94-93 Cleveland). No foul call again on Hughes when Kobe went up for the layin (96-95 Cavs) after the steal at the end of the game. And no foul call when Daniel Gibson took a full swing and chopped Kobe Bryant’s arms to hack the ball away from Bryant (still 96-95 Cavs). Zero calls on your home court? Only when James is involved does this happen.

    Everyone in the game know Kobe Bryant is the best player in the world, period. But only the NBA knows that it is James, not Bryant, who is the player they want to shine when the games are shown nationally.

    See, it is no accident that the Cavs, a team with only one reliable scorer, can lead the league in 4th quarter comebacks after being down at the end of three. Just ask Kobe after last season.////

    From D-wil at dwil.wordpress.com

    Aside from non-calls and NBA bias (it’s true only now it’s Lebron instead of Wade), the Lakers really did not perform at the end of the game.

    I really think the key was Fisher not being as much of a moderating influence on Kobe as he usually is. This is a game that should have been won. I accept the losses earlier this week because even with Bynum, there was a good chance of loosing. The Cavs though really aren’t that good.

  20. 16,17…
    The West is pretty open this yr. Dallas,SA and Phoenix are going to be good-but vulnerable-and maybe Portland won’t come to earth,but nobobody else at this time looks like they will pull away from the pack. So even an improbable 10 game losing streak wouldn’t knock the Lakers out of the PlayOff hunt. And having the kids go thru a series far outweighs moving up 3-4 spaces in the draft.
    What the season has shown is that the Lakers are getting very close to contender status. The point is set for next yr and looks good for the future. The 2 is in good hands,altho a capable reserve is needed,prefererably specialist in either instant O,defense or playmaking(w/playmaking being the greater need as Crit will prob provide the bench O). Bynum looks to be a legit All-Star level C,but a capable backup is needed. There is depth at the 3,altho it is extremely fragile and specialist in nature. If Ariza can stay healthy(and those Magic rumors of structural problems w/his foot are BS),he will be the D stopper the team needs and Walton/Radmanovic will be adequate reserves. The gaping hole is at the 4,where a PF who can make the Duncans work for their points and chip in some 20′ Js would make a world of difference.
    The good news is next yrs’ FA class is loaded w/good players and w/so many teams near Lux Tax territory MLE will be all a team needs to pick up a quality player-or two!
    1 starting PF,a cheap vet big and a good backup 2 and you’re set for a nice run. Just like the weather’s been pretty gloomy recently,it’s going to change and the Laker’s bad play will end.

  21. ^^You are in complete denial. It was not the refs who made Kobe take those stupid shots where he went 1-7 in the fourth quarter. Jackson never wanted Kobe on Lebron but Kobe’s ego wanted to show everyone on national tv what lock-down defender he is. You see, Jackson knew Kobe was overmatched -Lebron’s bigger, stronger, quicker, faster and is in fact a better ballhandler. A prime Michael Jordan took on defense the aging but bigger Magic Johnson in Game 1 of the 1991 Finals with disastrous results. Scottie Pipen took over on Magic and the Bulls never looked back.

  22. 18. You are right everyone gets home court calls unless you are playing against the leagues current pedestal MVP. Previously it was Wade/Lebron, now it is just Lebron.
    19. If Kobe did not take on Lebron, who pray tell would? I like the fact that he stepped up to take on the challenge in an attempt to win the game. He thought incorrectly that he might be the recipient of any questionable calls because he had home court advantage and is an elite player. In other words one superstar against another superstar and when playing said superstar at their home you know that they will get the calls. Kobe did not!

    More than anything else Kobe is hurt by the absence of Ariza because he can play the 2 or 3 spot defensively. Defense takes heart, hustle and will! In basketball 101 you learn that if you do not have the ability to put points on the board (I don’t care if you are injured, scared or crazy) then you better make defensive stops in order to win a game.

  23. Defense leads to offense. Simple example, Ronny is not a superior scorer, however, when he is on the floor, the Lakers produce more defense and offense… his energy sparks the defense and results in excellent transition offense with fast breaks…. all it takes is HEART…

  24. I think one of the things this young team needs to learn is how to play in crunch time. They’ve got Kobe, but other teams know it’s all him, and it seems like he’s wearing down a bit trying to take on too much of the load. (I like that Phil is sometimes willing to take Kobe out when the game is still in the balance, to give the other players a chance to do something when they couldn’t fall back on Kobe.)

    By contrast, I thought the Cavs looked good at the end of the game, which I think reflected some of the experience from making it to the finals last year.

  25. I’m firmly believe that Phil is doing his best to insure that the Lakers are not in first place before the All-Star break so he won’t have to coach the game.
    He’s “joked” multiple times that he doesn’t want to do it.
    He’s “joked” that he has reservations already made and doesn’t want to cancel them to coach the game.
    And he’s recently made numerous questionable coaching decisions.
    I’m not a conspiracy guy but I believe he’s quirky enough to pull something like this.

  26. Type at haste,regret stupidity forever.
    Meant Hornets falling back to Earth,not Portland.
    My point about Lakers losing 10 not knocking them out of hunt-10 straight would put them at 5 over .500,only 1.5 games behind current 8th place team. Their early season cushion and return of Bynum should be enough. And this yr not being a top 4 seed,well which of top 5 teams scares you? The Spurs,maybe Dallas’ depth,but the rest appear beatable.
    Overcoming injuries to get in,upsetting a First Rd team,competing against a Second Rd team would finally show progress.

  27. Thats a great summary. Hopefully tonight will be The Kobe and Pau Show: Act 1, The Begining.
    The excitement for tonights game is off the charts, where the new look Lakers will roll out their new aquisition, Pau gasol. Gasol gives LA a low post presence that they have been desperatly missing since Shaq went East to Miami. We will begin to see what the transition period for Kobe and Pau might be, will it be an instant connection or take some time. When the team finally does gel, the 2-man game that Kobe and Pau could run in the triangle should be impressive. The skills of both players allow for a variety of options out of the triangle. Both Kobe and Pau should benefit from eachother and increase their scoring percentage. And when Bynum gets back, man, LA will have 2 versatile 7-footers down low. It will be up to the Lakers shooters like Fisher, Farmar, Vujacic, and Ariza to hit open shots when presented to them due to the increased double teams. Also, the forwards like Odom, Walton, and Rodmanovic should also see more open shots as they facilitate the triangle. When Healthy, the team has the players to run the offense the way it was intended again. Hopefully the transition will be smooth and quick. Tonight we will see a glimpse of what could be, and as a Laker fan, I hope its magic.