The Lakers began this road trip winners of six straight, looking to close out the regular season on a high note as they have in the past during championship runs. They went into San Antonio and began the trip with a great win without Andrew Bynum – and the second half of that game was seemingly the last time the Lakers have played with any kind of rhythm. Tonight, the Lakers will be heading back to Los Angeles with a losing record from their five-game road trip after they lost their second straight game of the trip 109-92.
The Lakers seemed to come out in the first quarter determined to play with some extra effort. There was an edge to the Lakers that we hadn’t seen in a long time – but that edge wouldn’t last long. On the first possession of the game, Ron Artest found an open Pau Gasol for an easy dunk, and the Lakers would trade the lead with the Hawks until it was tied at 22 with 2:31 left to play in the first. About a minute later, the Hawks would take the lead after a Zaza Pachulia offensive rebound led to a Jamal Crawford three-pointer. The Lakers would never lead again – but more importantly, it was plays like that which led to a Hawks victory.
The Lakers, as they have been for much of the road trip, were simply out worked. The Hawks didn’t come out of the gate and jump on the Lakers early like the Thunder did, nor did they compile a run anywhere near the 17-1 run the Hornets had against the Lakers in the game before. No, they just out worked, out hustled and out smarted the Lakers for four quarters. For a team as undersized as Atlanta is upfront, there just shouldn’t be any reason why the Lakers are outrebounded by three, especially with the difference between the rebounding totals coming in the offensive rebound column.
For me, what was even more frustrating was their inability to play fundamentally sound basketball. The Lakers weren’t doing things like boxing out. They weren’t using the square on the backboard when they had easy looks at the rim. They made terrible entry passes and didn’t rotate the ball. They didn’t do the things that you’d expect any basketball team to make – from high school freshman teams to defending NBA champions, and this, combined with their lack of effort is why they’re losing games.
There were a few plays in the fourth quarter that really show how little the Lakers are paying attention to fundamentals and working hard:
– With 8:44 left to play, Jordan Farmar hit a three pointer, bringing the lead down to 12 points. If the Lakers were able to just get a couple of stops you would have been able to feel the air coming out of the building, finally shifting the momentum to the Lakers side. Instead of getting those stops, Maurice Evans was able to get past Derek Fisher to drive baseline for an easy layup. On their next possession, Joe Johnson drove past Kobe to get to the rim for another easy deuce to move their lead back up to 17 points. On both plays, rotations were extremely slow. (89-75, Atlanta)
– With 7:07 left to play, Kobe gets to the line and misses both free throws and the Lakers give up a long three-pointer to Joe Johnson. That’s a five-point swing at a crucial point in the game. (92-75, Atlanta).
– After Kobe hit a three-pointer to bring the game down to a 13-point deficit, the Lakers finally go down and get a stop. On the other end of the floor, Pau Gasol gets the ball on left side, and misses a four-foot jump hook off of the front of the rim. A kiss off of the glass brings makes this an 11-point game.
– The Lakers get ANOTHER stop on the Hawks next possession and bring the ball down the floor. Gasol is posting up on the left elbow with Jordan Farmar over-dribbling on the same side. Instead of looking away before making his entry, he looks at Gasol the whole time he has the ball and throws a lazy entry pass which is stolen by Josh Smith, one of the leagues best defenders. The telegraphed pass led to a Joe Johnson three, which he hit from San Antonio. That was the dagger that took away any hopes of a Lakers comeback.
It also doesn’t help when the Lakers bench is outscored by 20 points, 42-22. Jamal Crawford entered the game and was instant offense. Pachulia had a double-double off of the bench and Mauirce Evans scored 18. Without Jordan Farmar’s 16 points, the Lakers bench would have finished with only six points.
If there was any good from tonight’s game, it was from Kobe Bryant who, for the second straight game, seemed to have found his shooting stroke. He hit 12 of 21 shots and finished with 28 points. If he would have knocked down his free throws, he would have scored 30+ in consecutive games for the first time since March 7th and March 9th. Also, Pau Gasol finished with a 16 and 11 double-double. I thought Gasol could have had a huge night tonight. He had some early touches and was able to get Al Horford into early foul trouble. However, the Lakers stopped going to him and he lost any rhythm he had. Gasol finished the first half 3 for 3 while Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown went into the half a combined 1 for 11.
Ron Artest played well on Joe Johnson early in the game, forcing him into a few tough shots, but he ended the game with an extremely quiet 25 points and eight assists. Because of Evans and Crawford’s ability to score, things really opened up for Johnson in the second half to get his numbers.
Tonight’s frustrations aren’t just with the loss to Atlanta, but with all of their recent losses. The Lakers have been lacking three things that every basketball team – from the AAU circuits to defending NBA Champs – need to have: fundamentals, intensity and a sense of urgency. This Lakers team, to be quite frank, hasn’t played with any of those three in recent games. The Lakers have seven games left, three of those against losing teams and four of them at home. The Lakers play again on Friday night back at home against Utah.