In what was a tight, back and forth game for most of the evening, the Lakers just didn’t have enough in reserve to pull out a game that was there for the taking. All credit should go to Dallas who played well on both ends of the floor, rebounded the ball with effort and aggression, and made shots when it mattered all night. And even though the Lakers had a chance to win this game, this contest always seemed to be just out of arms reach as a final late game push fell short.
The game started out close as neither team could find any separation from the opposition. Each team was effective with its initial game plan as Dirk was stroking silky jumpshots while Kidd controlled the flow of the Mavs offense and the Lakers exerted themselves inside with early buckets from Bynum and post ups and finishes from Artest. The back and forth would continue all game, but a few trends would start to develop as the second unit made their appearances and those trends would be major stories throughout the rest of the game.
The first trend that developed was the Lakers inability to control their defensive glass. The Lakers bigs were just having trouble securing defensive rebounds and the extra possessions that Dallas earned would be costly to the Lakers defense as they mostly took advantage of the additional shots by either scoring or earning trips to the foul line. It’s not like the Lakers rebounding was bad for the entire evening, but long bounces off jumpers went Dallas’ way and even when the Lakers were in position to grab the ball it just didn’t happen. I mean, Kobe would collide with Pau and the ball would go out of bounds. Bynum or Gasol would have the ball on their fingertips only to have a hustling Maverick tip it away late or body them up and watch them fumble it away. And so it went for most of the night for the Lakers on the glass. And without gaining much traction on their defensive glass, it was tough for the Lakers to get any flow on offense as too many possessions ended with the Lakers not changing ends in their normal fashion as they were constantly battling for rebounds with Haywood, Najera, and Marion.
The second trend that developed was a red hot Jason Terry. In the game preview I wrote:
As for Terry, he is a notorious Laker killer and he needs to be marked from the moment he’s sitting at the scorers table to come into the game. He can light it up from anywhere and relishes his chances to stick it to the Lakers. I think we’ll see a lot of Shannon on JET tonight and that means we need the disciplined defense that WOW showed against Portland and San Antonio to make sure that Terry doesn’t get that good feeling going.
Let’s just say that Terry found plenty of space to operate in this game and in his typical form, he lit us up. 30 points on only 20 shots for JET as he filled it up from the three point line when his man gambled on steals in the post or lost him in transition. And then when the Lakers tried to pressure him too far from the basket, he’d use his quickness to get by them and get into the lane to finish there. Just an explosive night on offense for a player that has been doing it for years against the Lakers. If it wasn’t so predictable, it’d be amazing. Sadly it was just typical Terry when he sees the Purple and Gold of the Lakers.
But it wasn’t just Terry that hurt the Lakers. It was Dirk too. The big German was his normal fantastic self scoring on mid range jumpers, post ups, and earning trips to the foul line with his array of up and unders, feints, and ball fakes. The man just put on an great shooting display scoring 31 points on only 19 shots and did it without even taking a three pointer. Add to that his 9 rebounds and only one turnover and he was just the complete player that fans once overrated, but now don’t seem to appreciate enough. Dirk also provided the key play of the game when he found himself with the ball isolated on Kobe at the FT line with only a few ticks left on the shot clock. Dirk went into his trademark crouch to back down Kobe, turned, ball faked, and then dipped around Kobe and sank the jumper while simultaneously taking a swipe to the head. He then extended his arms in a celebratory show of exuberance that showed how much he really wanted this game.
And tonight, that really was the difference. The Mavs really wanted this game and they played with heart and effort the entire night. And while the Lakers also played hard, it was mostly in stretches when they sensed a push would get them to the finish line and a victory. And that type of effort just wasn’t enough tonight. The Lakers didn’t play with the assertiveness or the smarts that would earn them a victory and Dallas did. Simple and plain.
A couple of other notes on this one:
*The Lakers offense is really not in synch right now. Tonight’s game produced an offensive rating of 101.7 which is essentially what it looks like to watch the Timberwolves play every night. Some of that can be attributed to the poor shooting night of Kobe and the low FT attempts, but something is not right and it’s been this way all season. Obviously tonight was well below even the Lakers standards this year, but it’s nights like this that contribute to the Lakers hovering around 10th in offensive efficiency all season. If I had to do a mini break down of our offensive woes, I think our issues continue to be our lack of outside shooting (5-17 from 3 against the Mavs is below average for us, but all too typical) and our inability to stick to running our offense. The ball is still sticking too much when Bynum has the ball, Kobe is still running too much P&R, and our other guards continue to over dribble and use shoddy decision making in both the open and half court. And, even on nights when the shots are falling, most of our makes come from the talent level of our players rather than the team work that should flow from our sets. Is our offensive execution a fatal flaw? I don’t know, but it’s troubling to me that after 58 games the Lakers still haven’t righted the ship on offense are still not performing at a level that is representative of the talent on this roster.
*Turnovers have really hurt this team in the last two games. Last night the Lakers were able to overcome the 17 gaffes. Not tonight with a repeat in the number of giveaways. Call it fatigue if you want. Call it an adjustment to having Kobe back in the lineup. I call it lazy post entries, rushing passes to players that aren’t open, and silly offensive fouls where players are so anxious to shoot that they forget they can’t break the rules to get their shot off.
*I was impressed with the interior presence of Haywood. On defense, he was strong in holding his position and contested shots at every opportunity. He also rebounded well on both ends with 9 rebounds total (4 offensive) and gives this team much more than Dampier can. That said, Dallas’ lack of interior depth will come back to hurt them if Dampier can’t return to health and show effectiveness for the stretch run. Running Najera out there to defend a Gasol (or a Duncan or a Nene or a Boozer) is going to be a problem for this team in a meaningful playoff game.
*I continue to be impressed with Jason Kidd. Has he lost a step? Yes. He is 36. But his control over a game – especially offensively – and ability to run a team remains the highest level. Combine that with his not-so-fluky-anymore improvement shooting the long ball and you’ve got a player that hurts you when you double off him and can dissect you with passes for his mates when you pay too much attention to Dirk or Terry.