It’s All Mental

Kurt —  March 18, 2009

It’s what makes losses like the one to the 76ers frustrating — mental lapses. If the Lakers bench issues were just a matter of cold shooting or the other team hitting great shots, that happens sometimes. Like that last shot of the game, credit Iguodala. But the Lakers suffer more from the mental lapses than physical ones right now.

How else do you explain that Pau Gasol had just three shots in the second half against Dallas and five against Philly?

The bigger problems have been with the bench unit. As has been said, they are going to struggle some because of personnel — the Lakers two best bench players when things were going right were Ariza and Odom, and now they are starting. Bynum’s return next month will help. But it does not excuse the mental errors, the lapses. It’s harder and harder to forgive them this late in the season.

What follows is a breakdown of when the Lakers really lost this game, the start of the fourth quarter.

11:36, Lakers +14: After passing around the perimeter, Andre Miller ends up with the ball 15 feet out on the right baseline where, just as the Lakers defense is supposed to, it traps him with Sasha and Powell. The Sixers look lost — until Miller leans and splits the double team so he has an open passing lane and throws a skip-pass to Iguodala. How does it split them? Good question. But skip passes kill the Lakers defense. Pau runs out at Iggy to stop the three, so Iggy puts it on the floor and now nobody is really between him and the bucket. Lay up.

11:13, Lakers +12: Sasha has the ball and Powell flashes to the strong-side high post and gets the ball. Then Powell spins and tries to pass to Kobe mid-post on the weak side, the kind of high-low thing Pau and LO run well. But then they tend to look when they pass. Iguodala is playing ball denial defense on Kobe, gets the easy steal. Mental error and a turnover. The steal leads a break that ends with a Williams layup.

10:55, Lakers +10: Farmar and Kobe run the two-man game in the triangle, with Kobe in the high post. He gets the ball a few steps out from the elbow, faces up Iguodala, drives the lane, draws the entire city of Philadelphia including the Phillie Phanatic, then kicks out to Gasol for a wide-open 18 footer. Splash. Good things happen when Pau gets the ball.

10:30, Lakers +12: After some working around the perimeter, Williams just decides to go to the hoop and blows past Sasha. But Pau slides over to help so it is a kick-out long two from Iguodala. That’s the best you can do as the Lakers and they get the desired result, a miss. Then Reggie Evans grabs the board and everything resets.

In the scramble for the board the Lakers ended up switched around on their men, which meant Farmar trying to guard Iguodala, a slight mismatch. Farmar actually tries something smart and fronts Iggy, but the lob pass goes over his head and the backside rotation is late. Powell fouls. He hits one of two.

10:01, Lakers + 11: Now it is Farmar and Powell playing some two-man pick and roll. With Kobe and Pau Gasol on the strong side, is this really the offensive play you want to run? What has been frustrating about Farmar lately has not just been the missed shots, but the bad decisions. Anyway, off one pick Powell rolls to the hoop, both defenders play the middle ground and Farmar can shoot the 18 footer or hit an open Powell running to the basket. Instead, Jordan half-asses the pass and it gets knocked up in the air and stolen.

Iguodala runs and dunks.

9:23: Lakers +9: This time Kobe flashes into the high post and gets the ball, with Iguodala draped on him. There are cutters but nothing really open, so Kobe turns and faces up, rises up and shoots the 17-footer over and outstretched arm. Miss. Powell picks up the lose ball foul going for the board.

Williams has the ball out on the wing deep and starts to show a baseline drive, so Powell leaves Donyell Marshal to help almost immediately. Williams kicks over to the wide open Marshall, the one guy you can’t leave open from three on this team. Another mental error, another Philly bucket.

9:01, Lakers +6: The Sixers have decided who is not going to beat them. When Kobe comes off a high Powell screen both defenders jump out to trap, so Kobe dribbles away and hits Pau with a pass out by the three-point line. But Pau can drive and does into the lane, drawing help defenders. That leaves Powell open. Quick pass and Powell with the layup. Give Pau the ball and good things happen. So, we’re going to stop that now.

8:42, Lakers +8: Iggy gets the ball and is isolated on Kobe way out past the three-point line on the wing. He blows right past Kobe and Gasol is very late on the defensive rotation, and Iggy gets the and one.

8:26: Lakers +5: Kobe wants it now, but he is cold. He gets it on the wing and almost instantly launches a three that hits the back of the rim, but Pau gets the offensive board. Kobe and Pau now run the P&R, straight away, Kobe sees a lane and takes it all the way to the rim, miss but a blocking foul. He was passing, so ball out of bounds. Second time around, Powell is going up and has the ball knocked out of his hands, so Lakers ball out of bounds.

Third time around starts with Kobe on the wing getting a screen from Gasol and driving the lane, then kicking out to a wide open Farmar, who misses the three. Gasol grabs the rebound and proceeds to miss a six-foot hook. Shoulda worked with Cap on that. This is actually a sequence I can live with, the Lakers got good looks but just didn’t hit the shot. It is very different in that way from trips down before or after.

Williams pushes the ball up and while it is not 7 seconds or less, the Sixers get what they want, guys left alone or and outnumbering Lakers in the paint, Two quick passes and Reggie Evans finishes with a dunk.

7:32: Lakers +3: Kobe and Gasol are high pick and roll again. I know Kobe wants to take over here, but it is time to try to get some points out of the offense He ignores my advice, drives off the pick into the lane and hits Josh Powell for the five footer. Missed. But Powell grabs his own rebound and takes a couple steps to try and lay it in. Never bothers to dribble. Turns out you have to dribble. Except for LeBron. Traveling call and a turnover.

A couple of passes around the perimeter for Philly and the ball comes over to Ivey, Sasha is closing out on him and as he gets close Ivey puts the ball on the floor and blows past him into the lane. This is where we miss Bynum because nobody is sagging off to stop the penetration. Another layup.

7:04, Lakers +1: Kobe waits for the offense to give him the ball, then he calls Powell over for a wing pick and roll, Kobe gets into the lane and slips on some wet floor. Bad break, and the turnover means the Sixers are out on the break, Iggy has the ball and nobody stops the ball. Layup.

Timeout Lakers. I could go for the final five points of the run, but why bother.