Well, it’s happened. The much-ballyhooed three-game losing streak of the Pau Gasol era happened after yesterday’s loss in Orlando, the same Arena they ended the previous season. There would be no champagne dripping off of their faces as they left the arena, just a third loss in as many road games, the first time they went 0 for 3 on a three-game road trip since the 04-05 season. There isn’t much I can say about last night’s game that everyone else on the web already touched on. Here are clips from what writers and bloggers had to say about yesterday’s game, starting with Darius’ opening paragraph from his recap:
In what has been an all too familiar theme of late, the Lakers fought back from a deficit, had a chance to win a game, and came up just short. The Lakers just didn’t have enough plays in them at the end of this contest to make up for the plays they gave away in earlier portions of the game. And so, for the first time since acquiring Pau Gasol a bit over two full season’s worth of games ago, the Lakers have lost three straight and find themselves in a position where there are a lot of questions and not a lot of easy answers. In a way, this game was a microcosm of the Lakers entire season. The Lakers played well in spurts, and despite facing deficits as large as twelve, they were effectively in this game for most of the contest. They have the talent and the fight to come back in any game and they showed that fight in the 4th quarter today. But the issues that have plagued this team for most of the season were present throughout the game.
But the shooting… good Lord. As a team the Lakers had an Effective Field-Goal Percentage of 40%. That’s poisonously bad. Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Ron Artest and Jordan Farmar – four of their key perimeter shooters – combined to shoot 14 for 41 (34%) on two point shots and 4 for 15 (27%) on threes. Of the backcourt guys, only Shannon Brown (an EFG of 50%) found the hoop with acceptable regularity. For the three-game road trip, the Lakers shot 14 of 58 (24%) on three-point attempts.
This is not aberrant. The Lakers aren’t a good shooting team. They’re an average shooting team that’s worse than average on threes. And this, to me, is where the “flip the switch” hypothesis starts to wobble. I get you can summon greater effort and intensity in the playoffs. You can defend harder, you can shorten your rotations, you can fight for rebounding position with more verve than you bring on an afternoon in early March. But how do you just decide to start making shots? Outside shooting isn’t a function of effort. It’s a function of being good at shooting.
When things start to unravel — like they clearly are with the Los Angeles Lakers — perspective can be a funny thing.
Kobe Bryant seems to think there’s nothing wrong with the first three-game losing streak in more than two years. After all, he scored 39, 26 and 34 points, respectively, in those three games.
Pau Gasol, who has averaged less than 14 points in the three losses, has a different take. He believes the defending NBA champions have been thrown out of sync because one guy again has become too dominant in the offense.
And guess who that guy would be?
“Kobe is a great player, the best offensive player out there … but at the same time, we need to find some balance with our interior game, develop it a little more, moving the ball and changing sides,” Gasol said gingerly, knowing he was treading on sacred territory by questioning Bryant and the offense of coach Phil Jackson. “We need to get focused on that a little more, to find balance, to find some flow.”
The Lakers have an offense problem, not a defense problem.
Look at some numbers from Orlando’s box score:
- 41.1 percent from the floor.
- Individually, Rashard Lewis was four-of-13, Dwight Howard six-of-14, Nelson five-of-14.
- Vince Carter finished with 25 points on five-of-10 from the floor and 13-of-14 from the stripe, but two of the field goals and 10 of the freebies came over the first 12 minutes.
The Lakers pressured the ball, blocked shots, and forced turnovers. After a bad first quarter, they held a red hot Orlando team to 65 points over the final three quarters. The defense was more than good enough to win.
Except the Lakers were held to 37.5 percent from the floor, 29.4 percent from beyond the arc. As has too often been the case of late, their offense devolved into a series of quick shots or one-on-one isolations. Ball and player movement were rarely to be found. In the fourth quarter, the Lakers were completely Kobe-centric. A loose count says 16 of 22 trips saw Kobe take the first shot. He made a lot of them, including some tough ones. Classic Kobe. But it wasn’t enough, and put the Lakers in a position where he was either going to win it or not. The supporting cast can’t be expected to support when so rarely made part of the process.
Because this game (at least its ending) resembled Game Four of last year’s NBA Finals almost to a tee. Barnes’ three gave Orlando a six-point lead, but the Lakers found a way once again to cut into it thanks to the Magic gifting some points back to them.
Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter and Dwight Howard all missed a free throw in the final minute of the game, giving Los Angeles a faint glimmer of hope. As the Magic learned last year, the Lakers will take that glimmer any time they can get it. Bryant hit a contested three in the corner and then a two-pointer with his foot on the 3-point line to make it a one-point game with 12.9 seconds left.
Orlando was crumbling a bit at the end, but what made this game different than the Finals was that the Magic found a way to pull it out in the end. Confidence gained.
“I’m worried about what we can do to win ballgames. I’m not worried about streaks,” said Gasol, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds. “I’m worried about what we can do to win another championship as a team.”
The effort was substantially better than a pathetic offering two days earlier in Charlotte, but it didn’t stop the Lakers from getting swept on a three-game trip for the first time since 2004-05, the last time they failed to make the playoffs. Nor did it prevent them from incurring their 18th loss, one more than they had all last season.
Getting to the postseason is an obvious non-issue this season, but holding on to the top spot in the Western Conference suddenly isn’t such a given. The Lakers (46-18) are only three games ahead of hard-charging Dallas, which has won 11 consecutive games.
With each altercation, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant stared at Orlando forward Matt Barnes with stone-cold silence. Bryant gave Barnes the stare after tussling with him over a rebound in the third quarter, drawing a double technical foul as a referee stepped between them. Bryant gave the Barnes the stare after he dunked over him off a tip in. And Bryant gave Barnes the stare when he pretended to throw the ball at his face during an inbounds pass, something that didn’t make Bryant flinch for even a nano second.
Bryant’s didn’t appear to say much, at least to what was visible on the television screen. But he didn’t need to because his body language said it all. Through Bryant’s stone-cold stares, he reminded Barnes who he was and that nothing was going to intimidate him. Of course, when it’s all said and done, the Lakers walked away as the losers, dropping a 96-94 decision Sunday to Orlando. And despite Bryant’s many late fourth-quarter points, his team-leading 34 points came on 12-for-30 shooting with Barnes mainly drawing the defensive assignment.
The question everyone wants addressed (other than the identity of Ron Artest’s hair stylist) might have been delivered with a counter-punch,18 games from the playoffs.
Are the Orlando Magic better than they were last season and can they win the NBA title this time?
The Magic hit back when the defending champion Lakers unleashed their full fury and beat them 96-94 on Sunday at Amway Arena.
Sure, you can get a temperature reading on the Magic by listing their latest, greatest victims: They’ve beaten the Boston Celtics (twice), Cleveland Cavaliers and the Lakers while going 18-5 in the second half of the season.
But attaching a face to the Magic evaluation makes it even more meaningful, if not credible, especially when it’s Lakers coach Phil Jackson’s.
“I think they’re as good, maybe better, a little better than they were last year,” Jackson said.