Around the World (Wide Web): Lakers ‘edgy’, Sasha’s Back

Phillip Barnett —  March 9, 2010

So here we are, two games after the Lakers first three-game losing streak of the season, and it seems like, still, all everyone can talk about is how the Lakers are struggling. Yes, a three-game losing streak is definitely nothing we should ignore, but the Lakers were only a shot or two away from winning both games. As we’ve seen, read and heard about ad nauseam, the Lakers defense hasn’t been the problem. In this last month and a half of regular season hoops, we’re going to hear a lot about home court advantage, about how Dallas and Denver are closing in on the Lakers for the top spot in the Western Conference and about how the Cavaliers will be tough to be with four of seven in Ohio.  These things, however, are just NBA rhetoric, speculation into what the future might hold. No one knows for sure what is going to happen, but what we do know is that the Lakers still have the most talented collection of basketball players in the NBA, and for any of the other 29 teams to take home the Larry O’ Brien trophy, they’re going to have to beat the Lakers four of seven times.

After Monday’s practice, Kobe Bryant described the team as “upset” and “edgy” while Pau Gasol was disappointed and frustrated:

Kobe Bryant described the Lakers as “upset” and “a little edgy,” supporting his descriptors with a series of curt answers to reporters’ questions. Asked if he was feeling better a day after stomach issues forced him to miss the team bus to Amway Arena in Orlando, Bryant said, “I’m getting a stomach virus now with all these questions.”

The Lakers all seemed a bit queasy after losing three consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 23-27, 2008. Coach Phil Jackson lamented his team’s lack of execution, and forward Pau Gasol said the Lakers needed to improve their ball movement.

Gasol had not previously experienced a losing streak this long since joining the Lakers in February 2008, but he said their recent defeats weren’t as vexing as the defending NBA champions’ inability to play to their potential.

“That’s what’s disappointing and frustrating,” Gasol said. “That’s why I want us to get ourselves going and playing well and being confident and having that swagger of the best team in the league, and lately we haven’t been carrying that with us.

In terms of good news for the Lakers, it was reported that Sasha Vujacic was back practicing with the Lakers and should be back on the floor for tonight’s game against the Raptors. Also, Ron Artest shaved that god-awful haircut, although you could still vaguely see the design. Artest said the cut had nothing to do with Sunday’s loss to Orlando. Thing’s are necessarily as good for Luke Walton, but they’re an improvement over the last injury update I read. There is a time table for his return, the beginning of next month, and it’s looking more likely that he will not need to have surgery until the off season:

For Walton, the timeline on his wonky lower back is a little longer. The goal is to return from his second long stretch in street clothes by the beginning of next month, in time to get in the flow of things before the playoffs.

“It’s definitely going to be attempted. I’m hoping (I can do it.) I’m feeling really good again right now, with these last couple weeks off,” Walton said. “In the last week or so we’ve stepped up the workout, what we’ve been doing in the weight room, I’ve been on the court with (Athletic Performance Coordinator) Alex (McKechnie), and then I got on the treadmill for the first time today. So over the next three weeks we’re going to gradually push it up higher and higher, and hopefully be ready to start going by the first of April.”

Land O’ Lakers usually has video of post-practice interviews, but for today, they have selected quotes from Phil Jackson, Pau Gasol and this more optimistic quote from Derek Fisher:

“March is to me a good time of year. Playoff focus starts to come in, and you start to see how teams are going to line up a little bit. Teams start playing at an elevated level. I don’t think it’s so much about dog days, I just think that the season is long and to do something a hundred times, there are more opportunities for you to have great times when you do it and not so great times when you don’t do it well. That’s what we’re going through. We’ve still done it right 46 times and haven’t done it right 18 times. That’s still a pretty good percentage, and we’ll keep fighting to get better.”

Kelley Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie has a nice post on the current state of the Lakers:

So once again, I’m in the uneasy position of telling you why things aren’t as bad as you think they are, or for some of you, why things aren’t going as well as you think they should. It’s that middle ground that I can’t live with myself for at least attempting to smartly occupy, and it’s probably why you’ve never seen me on TV. So it goes.

The streak, to start. Los Angeles has lost three in a row, for the first time in more than two years. The first time since Pau Gasol became a Laker. The first time since, really, a three-game losing streak would mean anything to this team since Shaquille O’Neal was a Laker.

But they also lost to the Heat by three in overtime. That’s a swing-either-way game. They were thumped again by the Bobcats, but that marks the seventh time in nine attempts that Charlotte has beaten the Lakers. The Bobcats have their number. It’s over. They also won’t see them again until sometime next December.

Then on Sunday, the Lakers lost to the Magic by three. Another either/or game, because as much as I credit the Magic for this win, these close games can go either way. It’s usually your rooting interest that deludes you into believing otherwise.

So, clearly, this is the three-game losing streak that isn’t. Or, probably, it’s the three-game losing streak that really doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot. There wasn’t anything the Lakers were doing in this streak that they haven’t been doing all season.

For better and for worse.

Tonight, the Lakers are back home to play the Toronto Raptors. Raptors Republic, one of my favorite TrueHoop Blogs, has an early preview of tonight’s match up.

-Phillip

Phillip Barnett

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11 responses to Around the World (Wide Web): Lakers ‘edgy’, Sasha’s Back

  1. Maybe so, but it has been fustrating to watch, all the same.

    Other than the brief stretch after Pau returned in December, they haven’t looked anything remotely like a great team. It’s been more like a bunch of pieces randomly put together than like any kind of cohesive unit.

    Still, hope springs eternal. And if Kobe is healthy ….

  2. Lakers drop three straight while Sasha is out. Coincidence, I think not………

  3. Read Pau’s comments and I agree, they need that swagger and confidence back in a major way…we need a winning streak BADLY…However, with 18 games left…this is how I see it playing out: 12-6

    Mar 9 Toronto W
    Mar 12 @ Phoenix L
    Mar 15 @ Golden St W
    Mar 16 @ Sac L
    Mar 19 Minn W
    Mar 21 Washington W
    Mar 24 @ SA L
    Mar 26 @ OK City L
    Mar 27 @ Houston W
    Mar 29 @ NO W
    Mar 31 @ Atlanta L
    Apr 2 Utah W
    Apr 4 SA W
    Apr 8 @ Denver L
    Apr 9 @ Minn W
    Apr 11 Portland W
    Apr 13 Sac W
    Apr 14 @ LAC W

    That gets us to: 58-24 (last year we got to 65 wins). Now take a look at Dallas’ schedule and while “anything” can happen – with their soft schedule, I think WCHCA is theirs for the taking. Sadly, the Lakers have only themselves to blame for their inconsistency and lack of effort…They haven’t had a 5-game winning streak since December 22nd…I found that astounding. Here’s to hoping I am proven wrong over then next 18 games.

    BTW, last 2 teams to get to 50 wins first, won the title (BOS, LAL)…Cavs have done it this year…

  4. Re: The first point

    Lots always gets thrown around at this point, especially about the Cavs record, but remember last year, they had home-court throughout the playoffs, but it didn’t last long enough. While we may not catch them, it’s far from certain we’ll see them in the finals.

    Writers need to write, don’t worry Laker fans, we’re alright. HC is great to have, can be overcome, and may not even play a part depending how the playoffs unfold.

  5. Is there any official word as to Gasol’s status for tonight’s game? A few sports sites are listing the starting lineup with Odom in place of the Gman.

    Let’s see if Bynum can show that the Bosh trade would have been a bad move on the front office’s part….keeping the fingers crossed on that one.

  6. 3) In order for Dallas to catch the Lakers, based on your 12-6 projection for the rest of their season, they will have to 14-3 in their remaining games. This will force a tie (not sure who has the tiebreaker) and not an outright win. Now, I think 12-6 is a littler conservative for the Lakers since they’re winning percentage is greater than 66% (or what they’ll have to do in order to go 12-6) and I think Dallas is getting too much credit with a 14-3 closeout, but they are peaking at the right time. But, I guess we’ll see how it all plays out. One way or the other, I’m interested.

  7. Looks like Denver is looking to sign Brian Cook. Huge pick up fo Denver. I know with Martin out probably until the playoffs they need some front court depth but they would have been better off holding a contest at half time and signing a fan.

    http://www.hoopsworld.com/Story.asp?story_id=15529

  8. It’s hard being a Laker fan. That’s right, I said it. They are the most over-analyzed team in all of sports.

    Truth be told, they should come out and win close to 70 games every season with a lineup like they have. Kobe is shooting too much but at the same time the bigs aren’t playing efficient offense and the rest of the team is standing around watching #24. All of that said is anybody really writing them off as the top contender? I think the best any sports writer can really (honestly) come up with would be something like, “the way the Lakers are playing right now isn’t the kind of basketball you have to play to repeat as champions.” Cleveland is really good and Orlando has gotten tougher but who out there is 100% sure they can beat the Lakers in a 7 game series?

    It is frusterating to watch more often than not lately. To those who stress out too much be like my dad and turn the channel if they don’t come out and play a strong 3rd quarter when they are down at the half. Bill Morris’s famous quote, “I’m not gonna watch that $H1T”.

    In my opinion, which isn’t much other than that, the Lakers pick it up as a team come April. I don’t think they will roll through the playoffs though. It would be nice if someone can start hitting the threes and I can see that being Ronald. All in all I don’t see anyone knocking LA off on the way to the finals. Until then I suggest an alcoholic beverage to ease the anxiety of all Laker fans.

  9. 6) Yes, you’re right – I was being conservative (I tend to be cautiously optimistic). That being said, I don’t think Dallas going 14-3 is out of the question. They only have 7 road games left and ORL, BOS, DEN (their toughest opponents over the last 17 games) are all at home.

    I believe we own the conference record (right now), so that means the split is in our favor should we end up tied.

    Like I said, though, the most disappointing stat is that lack of a 5-game streak since December.

    Go back and look at last year’s March/April – we finished with solid, several win streaks.

    And to your point – that is streaking at the right time.

  10. No offense, Phillip, but this post is a bit too rosy for my tastes.

    To dismiss the team’s problems by saying the Heat and Magic games were there for the taking with just one or two more baskets invalidates the fact that the team lost all three games on a trip in which many were hoping to see them come out with renewed focus.

    Using that type of logic, the Magic could see they were really no less a winner than the Lakers in 2009, since a made layup by Lee or a missed 3 by Fish were all that separated them from the trophy, too. Or Miami or the Kings or Bucks or Celtics could say they should have beaten L.A. earlier this year, since Kobe’s shots were just a point or two from a win or loss. It doesn’t work that way.

    To write that “the Lakers still have the most talented collection of basketball players in the NBA” is subjective. Talent alone doesn’t win games; execution does, and this team has often been lacking in that category.

    And the statement that “any of the other 29 teams to take home the Larry O’ Brien trophy (is) going to have to beat the Lakers four of seven times” is also false.

    You’re writing that the title must come through the Lakers. For all we know, L.A. may not even come out of the west, let alone make the Finals. The west or east winner could potentially win a title without even facing the Lakers, depending upon how soon they flame out in the playoffs.

    There are a lot of reasons for concern surrounding this team. I’m not declaring them dead by any means, but I also won’t call them a favorite, at least until they can start playing with efficiency and proving that they can beat the league’s better teams. We’ve not seen proof of that this year.