This was a game that I’ve seen many times before (well not exactly like this, we’ll get to that in a second). The Lakers, for all their strengths, still have numerous faults and those bad traits came back to hurt them today. You combine that with the fact that the other team employs professional basketball players too, and what you have is another defeat. The Lakers are now 3-6 in their last 9 games and if that isn’t worrisome, the ways that they’re losing them are. Because the Lakers are now losing by blowout and by close defeat. And against the Blazers they lost in a way that that was predictable all the way up to the point where it was pure craziness. I mean, when was the last time where the team up by one with less than 10 seconds left intentionally fouls the other teams best player? Then, that player – a guy that is shooting 81% from the foul line and is one of the more cold blooded players in the league misses both FT’s. Then, after securing the offensive rebound, an 86% FT shooter gets fouled and proceeds to only make one FT to leave the game tied with only 3 seconds left. Then on the subsequent possession, two 14 year veterans sandwich the opposing player taking a desperation heave and foul him in the act of shooting a three pointer – where he calmly makes all three from the line and wins the game. So, sure, I’ve seen losses before, but that ending was something altogether new. However, those last possessions weren’t the reason the Lakers lost.
Today’s game was the perfect example that even when you do perform reasonably well in certain areas, doing other things rather poorly will get you beat. Especially when the other team is on their game. Against the Blazers, the Lakers got outrebounded by Portland 46-41 and allowed 12 offensive rebounds. Now, that number isn’t astronomically high, but the timing of those offensive boards really did hurt the Lakers. On one of the key plays in the game, with the Lakers leading by one and only needing one stop to secure the win they forced a haphazard shot by the Blazers, only to see Marcus Camby come from the weakside and collect one of his 7 offensive rebounds for putback that gave his team the lead. And then there were the aforementioned missed FT’s down the stretch. I mean, Kobe and Fisher had 4 free throws between them to take the lead and could only knock down one of them to tie the game. That’s three missed FT’s in crucial moments of the game and ones that brought the Lakers total for the night to only 9-14 for 64%. You combine those numbers with the fact that Portland made 13 of their 15 FT attempts and that the Lakers fouled Martell Webster twice on three point attempts and you’ve got a double whammy of FT’s being a key factor in determining the outcome of this contest.
All that said, the credit for this win should go to the Blazers. After Brandon Roy left the game in the second quarter due to an aggravation to his surgically repaired knee, Portland easily could have folded up their tents and gone home. Instead, they battled through and other players stepped up, hit shots, got rebounds, and made the winning plays down the stretch. Lamarcus Aldridge, Andre Miller, Martell Webster…all of them made multiple plays that put their collective stamp on this game. These guys showed that their level of play can rise to the occasion and against the Lakers today that was enough to hold on to the win.
As for the Lakers, they didn’t do enough to win. Simple and plain. While they defended well on many possessions, on countless others they were not up to par. The pick and roll defense was especially worrisome at times as they decided to both go over the top of the screen with the ball handler’s defender while simultaneously having the big man sit in no mans land between the ball and rim. This led to the ball handler getting to wherever he wanted on the court while also allowing the screener to either roll to the basket or pop out for a jumper with no impunity. Too many times Lemarcus Aldridge benefitted from this strategy with either wide open jumpers or easy set ups at the rim. The Lakers defense also struggled to contain Andre Miller’s forays to the basket. Miller was able to drive at will and get into the paint while the rotating Lakers’ big men were a step slow in trying to contest the shots. Sure, Miller only shot 7-20 from the field, but the 7 he made were right at the cup.
And while the defense was suspect at times, the Lakers performance at the other end of the court was even worse. The Lakers only scored 101 points per 100 possessions and did so on 47% true shooting. The Lakers went 5-22 from behind the three point line, but yet Gasol (who had another strong offensive night) only missed 4 of his 13 shots (including a last second attempt from downtown to tie the game) and Odom went 8-15 from the field. On one egregious possession, Shannon Brown ran a P&R with Odom and forced a switch so that Jerryd Bayless was guarding LO in the low post and Aldridge was on Shannon. But instead of passing the ball into Lamar, Shannon stepped back and took a contested three pointer with 11 seconds left on the shot clock. That’s the type of execution that will not get it done – not in any game. And I haven’t even touched on Kobe’s 20 points on 23 shots. Sure, #24 played hero down the stretch with a looong three pointer and an and 1 layup that came on back to back possessions to give the Lakers the late lead that they could not hold onto. But, the rest of the game saw a few too many forced jumpers against defenders that have traditionally given him problems. Not the return he was looking for in his first game action in a few games.
In the end, this was another loss and while I wish they’d stop already, it is a process to get back on the right track. After the Denver game I said that I thought this Lakers team was getting closer to playing well and that is something that I think is still true. However, I must say, they’re a bit further away than I’d like them to be at this point of the season.