Lakers/Nuggets: The First Loss is an Ugly One

Phillip Barnett —  November 11, 2010

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(AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

Every team in the NBA has to record their first loss at some point, unfortunately it came at the hands of one of my least liked teams on a night where Kobe became the youngest player in NBA history to rack up 26,000 points. This definitely will not be the last Lakers loss of the season, but I can only hope this is the last loss they record in this particular fashion. They played an abysmal fourth quarter in a very winnable game, and furthermore, the Lakers failed to play well in every area that Darius highlight in the Keys to the Game portion of his Preview and Chat.

Offensively, that means going inside early and often to batter the Nuggets’ interior.  With Denver having a depleted front line, Gasol and Odom should be featured in the paint and the Lakers guards/wings should be penetrating the ball in order to get high percentage shots at the basket.

Because of the length of the Boston/Miami game, we didn’t get to see the first seven minutes of the game, but the play-by-play that ESPN offers suggests that the Lakers didn’t make a conscience attempt in getting the ball inside early or often. A lot of the Lakers field goal attempts in the first quarter were mid-range jumpers from 10-17 feet, not higher percentage shots around the rim from Pau and/or LO. In fact, both Pau and LO had off nights. It’s tough to imagine Gasol having a tough night considering he had 17 points and 20 rebounds, but he really struggled in the second half. When the Nuggets bench went on their 14-0 run (more on this later), Al Harrington really took Pau out of his comfort zone. Pau became frustrated, and made mental and physical mistakes for the remainder of the game. Pau missed a few bunnies around the rim that we’re not used to him missing, he made some bad passes from the low post, and wasn’t as decisive as he’s been for much of the season. Odom on the other hand didn’t see the floor much. He was the only starter to not play 40+ minutes, finishing the game with three points, 12 boards in just 26 minutes. According to Kevin Ding’s via Twitter, LO didn’t play much because “Phil wanted to play Shannon and keep Ron on Melo, and DEN went small.” This may be correct, but it’s hard to imagine this remaining true down the stretch. Odom was hitting the boards hard when he was on the floor and Phil usually isn’t one to change he personnel because of the players the opposing coach has on the floor. Suffice to say, the Gasol/Odom duo didn’t do what we have grown to expect from them in the early games of the season.

The other key offensive match up of course involves Kobe.  I was not too pleased with Kobe’s tactics on Tuesday as he often worked outside the framework of the Triangle in order to get his baskets.  And while he was successful doing so, tonight’s match up against Afflalo won’t be nearly as easy and thus that same approach is not advised.

Yes, Kobe had a season high 34 points, but he took a stifling 32 shots to get there. For the second straight game, the Lakers offense wasn’t executing as well has it had during the first six games of the season and Kobe decided that it would be best if he attempted to take over with his shooting instead of working within the offense. Kobe had a huge third quarter where he was able to go at J.R. Smith and knock down some big, Kobe-esque shots. But down the stretch, he took a few ill-advised shots with the game still in reach. The three pointer he took with the Lakers down by just four points and a minute left in the game was the shot attempt that helped put the game on ice for Denver. Shannon Brown was playing well, and he was able to score a couple of possessions earlier by getting to the rim, with the Lakers being down only two possessions with plenty of time left on the clock, I would have liked him to run the offense or get to the rim for a higher percentage shot or to draw a foul, giving him a chance to chip away at the lead with the clock stopped. Neither happened, Chauncey Billups went to the line and extended the lead to six.

Defensively, the Lakers primary focus should be slowing Carmelo Anthony.  Ron Artest has had some good success against ‘Melo and I look for him to employ the same tactics that have worked for him in the past.  That means bodying ‘Melo up off the ball and making him work for every catch.  When Anthony does have the ball he should force him to his strong hand and make him drive all the way to the rim where there’s help to contest those interior shots.

Carmelo Anthony, especially in the first half, got everything he wanted. His jumper was falling. He knocked down mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper on his way to a 32-point, 13 rebound night. Ron Artest wasn’t able to do much to throw off Anthony’s game. Anthony’s EFG was 58 percent on the night and, more importantly, his ability to score at an extremely efficient rate opened up things for other guys later in the game. At least two sets of eyes were on ‘Melo at the same time, creating cutting lanes, driving lanes and wide open looks for shooters. When Carmelo Anthony can get into a scoring groove early, it makes things much easier for other guys to get going, and that’s exactly what happened.

The other match up I’ll be watching in this game is the battle of the benches.  We’ve all been impressed with the Lakers trio of Barnes, Blake, and Brown and how they’ve been able to turn games in the Lakers’ favor in the first 8 games.  Well, the Nuggets boast their own trio of bench players with Ty Lawson, JR Smith, and Al Harrington.  These 6 players match up by playing the same exact positions and whichever unit has the most success will be a major factor in who wins this game.

One doesn’t have to look further than the end of the third quarter into the fourth to see the effects of Anthony’s propensity to put the ball in the hoop. With 47 seconds left in the third quarter, J.R. Smith made a short jumper as he was fouled. He knocked down the free throw to begin a streak of 19 straight points by the Nuggets bench. Smith, Ty Lawson and Gary Forbes took I to the Lakers in the fourth quarter, which might have been the most pathetic quarter of the Lakers season so far. The Nuggets bench finished the night with 43 points, 18 rebounds and 11 assists compared to 29 points, nine rebounds and three assists from the Lakers reserves. Steve Blake was consistently beat off the dribble by Ty Lawson, and Matt Barnes wasn’t able to knock down any shots from behind the arch or score on one of his coveted transition baskets. Shannon Brown was an exception. He played very well and was the Lakers second leading scorer with 19.

The thing is, the Lakers were in prime position to win this game. They did a great job in closing out on the Nuggets shooters, they were doing a great job on the boards and were winning in the turnover battle – all until that awful fourth quarter. As the Lakers record finally indicates, this team is not perfect, but the first loss of the season is no reason to panic. Kobe isn’t going to go 11 for 32 every night, it’s very rare that Pau loses mental focus and (hopefully) the Lakers won’t have too many more quarters where they completely lose grip of what they’re trying to do on both ends of the floor. The Lakers play again this Sunday for the second time against the Phoenix Suns. Lets hope for a bounce back from two bad games.

Phillip Barnett

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34 responses to Lakers/Nuggets: The First Loss is an Ugly One

  1. Before anyone bashes Gasol for not playing well don’t forget that this was the first game he played a true Center since opening night. And 24 minutes of Yao Ming was enough to put the Lakers in a double digit hole at home. The PF is fine playing Center if he doesn’t have to go up against a quality Center. Unfortunately for the Lakers and for Pau, Nene qualifies as just that. The Lakers were out muscled inside and eventually succumbed to all those body blows in the paint. Artest and Brown had great games and Kobe gave his usual warrior like effort. I didn’t think this was as bad of a loss as Phillip. I thought if we were going to lose a game this season it would have to be tonight on the road against a squad with a legitimate big man (with Bynum sidelined) coming off an embarrassing loss. Shake it off Lakers fans this was bound to happen. The key of course is to keep beating teams that don’t have a real quality big man. Because for that we don’t have an excuse.

  2. Pau’s done such great work in the early going, it’s hard not to forgive him for those bad stretches on Thursday — this one time. :)

    Me still like 8-1. We’ll get dem Nuggets some payback on Jan. 21, boys.

  3. Coach Jackson finally got his wish. When the Lakers didn’t bring their A-game they got beat. This is the type of game where Bynum would have helped, but even more so Odom but that is not why they lost.

    The Lakers lost the game due to a lack of discipline and respect. Kobe loves to disrespect the guy he’s guarding and dares them to shoot open corner threes. He plays center field and dares opponents to hit open threes. He just thinks I’ll go back on the other end and replicate their 3. BAD MENTALITY.

    The lack of discipline on offense. The ball movement was lacking this game. There was only one possession where the Lakers actually had good triangle ball movement that enabled Kobe in a favorable position in the low block. Otherwise it was pass around the horn and shoot a 3. The Lakers lose when they are content shooting outside jumpers. That IS the opponents strategy to beating the Lakers.

    Pau mentally checked out of this game. He was content getting bodied and pushed around. He was anything but resilient. You know if you’re not having a good offensive night, find a way to contribute. Lay a guy out on defense when he’s going for a layup. Nope, that’s not Gasol’s mentality. Tonight, he was comfortable getting pushed around and not getting favorable offensive touches. BAD MENTALITY.

    One bad game, but let’s not forget the great efforts. Ron Artest, he played a solid offensive game and defended Carmelo like a rottweiler, regardless of what the stat sheet says. That’s just Melo being a great player.

    Also credit Shannon for providing the spark off the bench and sparkling shooting from outside. He had a great block that was at a pretty crucial stretch late in the 4th. They just couldn’t execute on offense because of the lack of a post presence.

    Lakers can play better, I’m glad they lost so they can go back to realizing they’re imperfect.

    They can’t just mess around and play undisciplined basketball BAD MENTALITY.

    One game. We’ll improve. The journey continues.

  4. I don’t really care about the record, because more than half the teams the Lakers beat won’t mean a damn thing come playoff time.

    Home court advantage is important, but I would rather have the Lakers at 5-4 and won this game against the Nuggets playing good, focused basketball.

    Without K-Mart and Birdman, our bigs should have had a larger impact on this game.

  5. I think Phil wanted to send a message to the team this game, that, this is what happens when you guys don’t play the way you need to. I blame the whole team for this one, but I honestly blame Pau and Lamar the most. They were last seen at the Denver airport. You cannot blame Kobe for trying to take over this game, what the hell is he supposed to do if Pau is afraid to go to the low post and bang with Harrington? Or if Lamar is off in La La land? Hell Kobe still led in assists for us. Now he took some bad shots no doubt about it but thats gonna happen with Kob. If guys will play with energy every game, this will never be a problem. When Kobe went out at the beginning of the fourth quarter, we looked even worse. Ughh just frustrating. Just one loss though, the road to threepeat continues.

  6. Rough game.

    We won’t really know about this Lakers team until Bynum is back and starting.

    That is when I will be very interested in seeing how well the bench does when Lamar is leading it, and how often Phil will go with three bigs out there to really punish teams with small front lines and foul trouble.

  7. In one night former MVP James gets 35 while former MVP Bryant gets 31–leading their respective teams to defeat. If one wants to win, having a former MVP on one’s team putting up MVP numbers may be more of a curse than a blessing. . . . . . .

  8. if this game is in LA, Pau gets calls, and the game is not even close.

  9. So, I’m curious how do you think Kobe’s mind organize priorities?

    Ring>MVP>Lakers regular season???

    I think that he had time to realize that getting all his teammates involved is the best known recipe to success but he still doesn’t choose this path.

    By the way, if the Celts frontcourt was healthy and Bynum playing on one leg do you guys think that Boston frontcourt would dominate Lakers frontcourt, the other way around or something in the middle. I mean, they seem less talented but bigger.

  10. I found myself looking for LO during the 4th, and wondering why he wasn’t on the floor.
    I know Shanwow had some nice moments, but we were missing LO on the boards.

    I then found myself thinking, well, at least our problem is we have too much talent…

    what are we gonna do when young ‘Drew comes back?

  11. Regardless of what has been said over here and in the locker room, I want to retain the current starting 5 and have Drew come off the bench when he does get back.

    The current starting 5 is 2007 Lakers when we just acquired Pau Gasol. The transition was so easy and so smooth that it seemed like Pau was playing for us all these years. The offense runs so smoothly and things just are so much fun to watch.

    If and when Drew is available, Drew immediately replaces 1 of the other 2 bigs (usually Lamar) and we go to a slower but more defensive-oriented crew. Once the Killer B’s take over, the Lakers will be unstoppable.

    Blake, Brown, Barnes, Bcaracter and Bynum.

    I heard Derick has already petitioned the LA judiciary that he is officially changing his last name to BCaracter so he’d be a staple member of the 2nd group.

  12. With over 10 years of NBA experience, Bryant still doesn’t get the point that it takes more than one guy to win a basketball game.

  13. Where was the lockdown defense we got used to seeing in critical stretches last year?

    It’s only one game and I will say they didn’t come out and play the way they need to. But, that being said, they were still right there to win it until they let Denver go on that big run.

    The one thing I am liking about the role players so far is that it seems like at least one of them has a big game each night. Last night it was Shannon. Other nights it has been Blake or Barnes. You gotta love that.

    Suns on Sunday.

  14. I would content that when Kobe goes into gunner mode it has a ripple effect on everything to Lakers try to do as a team. It throws the offense out of balance, leads to runouts on missed forces and this leads to an imbalance on defense as players scramble to find their man. Did Pau and LO have off nights? For sure. Is it a coincidence that these off nights tend to come on nights when Kobe goes into gunner mode? That’s the interesting question–does X cause Y or Y cause X?

    I’ve come to realize that this will never change–you have to take the good with the bad when it comes to Kobe. He will have nights when he commits himself to team play and the Lakers look unbeatable. Then he will have his gunner nights, and when he’s on, the Lakers will still win (though not look unbeatable), but when he’s off, things get ugly fast.

    It will be fascinating to see what happens as Kobe continues to age, because the nights when he’s on for 40 minutes will steadily decrease. If he were to commit himself to team play for, say, 80% of the time instead of, say, 60%, that could make up the difference. But if he’s still jacking up 30 shots a night on a regular basis over the next 3 years…you can see why Phil will be smart to head off to his cabin in Montana and write books.

  15. When Lamar stays focused/aggressive, Kobe stays within the offense, and Pau is aggressive, the team (even without Bynum) is unbeatable. They can survive one of those, and usually two of them, but not all three against a team like Denver.

  16. If I were a team that had a good chance of playing the Lakers in the playoffs, I would start now advertising player X as someone who was able to contain Kobe, even if it wasn’t true. That way he is very likely to go into his “shooter Kobe” mode, (which as several others have already noted tends to throw the rest of the team off their game) and take my chances that he won’t have one of his fantastic games.

  17. Feel & Dick Barnett & exhelodrvr,

    You people seem to be missing two key points…
    1) Kobe is who he is — this is also what makes him such a great closer/player.
    2) Kobe knows sooner/surer/with more knowledge of the consequences who is into any particular game. Tonight Pau was in a stinker shooting funk from the start and LO seemed in his spaceman place. It is hard to run the triangle when your only two true big men are mentally missing. Perhaps they weren’t getting enough oxygen at that altitude.

    I got to give Aaron some props when he is right – Pau doesn’t do as well against true centers unless he is 100% on his game – he clearly wasn’t last night.

    There may be a question of which is first, X or Y, but Kobe doesn’t give a d**n what you think – thank goodness.

  18. Historical Note:
    Just read over at ESPN LA that Wilt Chamberlain never averaged less than 40 minutes a night over his entire career. Talk about iron men…

    I did remember the year he averaged over 48 minutes per game – he played every minute of every game, including all overtimes – but didn’t realize he was quite that minute dominant during his entire career.

  19. “There may be a question of which is first, X or Y, but Kobe doesn’t give a d**n what you think – thank goodness.”

    You got that right.

    He also doesn’t care what Jackson thinks, or Gasol, or Fisher, or Odom, or Kupchak, or anybody else.

    Kobe is in it for Kobe, everybody else can go pound sand. If he feels like taking 40 or 50 shots he’ll take them, whether the team wins or loses, he’s going to get his.

  20. Craig W,
    Well, we see how well that worked last night.
    Kobe is a great closer. But when he is a closer for an entire game, the team is significantly less successful. I don’t accept “Kobe is who he is” as a valid excuse for him to play outside the system. He should work on his weaknesses just like Fisher, Odom, et al should work on theirs.

  21. @Craig W. I think it’s a little bit of a chicken and egg thing with Kobe and the gunner vs passer mode. Did the team O go into a funk because he was in gunner mode from the get go? Or did he go into gunner mode because the team O was in a funk?

    Sure Pau wasn’t playing as well as he could. But he also wasn’t getting the ball in good places. When they were fronting him, all the entry passes were trying to go over the top and plenty of time for Den help defense to contest. I don’t recall a single post entry attempt coming from the side due to ball movement.

    IMO, Kobe goes into gunner mode a little too quick at times. You can almost sense it in how he starts games. I would prefer Kobe to husband his energy for later in the game. Beginning and middle of the game, I’d prefer that he makes a concentrated effort to run the offense even if it’s not clicking right away. He’s smart enough to run through all the sequences at least.

    Or at the very least, go into gunner mode to keep the team within distance but still try to run the offense occasionally.

    Last year he went into gunner mode pretty quickly when he was within reach of some scoring records. I can only hope that his quick trigger the last two games was due to chasing down Wilt.

    Last year he settled back into team mode a lot faster after getting those records, let’s hope this year is the same.

  22. #19. Woah there. Kobe’s in it for Kobe? Let’s not react too heavily on 2 games OR try to paint his career in a manner that picks and chooses negative moments as the ones qualify his entire style of play.

    I rewatched key moments from last night and Kobe wasn’t as bad as I originally thought in terms of forcing shots. Sure, there was *plenty* of that, but he also made plenty of good plays that just didn’t work out for the team. For example, when Harrington was on Pau, Kobe tried to set the offense on multiple possessions to get Pau good looks, but it rarely worked out. On a couple of plays, Pau couldn’t earn the position needed to warrant a post entry and on another Pau did get the pass, tried to drive middle and then forced a terrible pass that ended up being a turnover. On one of the plays in those last couple of minutes, Kobe penetrated, had a good look for himself, and instead of shooting passed to an open Fisher who had a three ball rim out.

    I’ve been just frustrated as anyone over the past couple games when looking at shot selection and shot distribution. But reactionary comments like “If (Kobe) feels like taking 40 or 50 shots he’ll take them, whether the team wins or loses, he’s going to get his.” are just as off base as anyone that would claim Kobe is playing perfect offensive basketball. Neither are the truth or even viable as arguments. Those are the types of comments that come from pre-determined mindsets about the player. I’d prefer we try to avoid those here…

  23. The Lakers didn’t play as bad as some have stated. I was far more disappointed in their effort against the T-wolves. They played a decent game for three quarters.

    Pau just had a rare off night which is to be expected over the course of a long season.

    I have no fault for Kobe going for the jugular (especially when there is nothing for him to facilitate when Pau is doing his Kwame Brown impersonation). That’s what makes him the black mamba. If he hits that one shot the outcome probably would be different and you guys probably wouldn’t be discussing him going 11 for 32.

    As mentioned by others this gives the coaching staff fodder to get their message across and help them work on their deficiencies.

    JLV

  24. It’s one loss I know but I’m bummed. Road wins against playoff teams are hard to come by and we should have had this one. Oh well onto to Sunday.

  25. Like Darius, I also went back and re-watched the game, and the Lakers just didn’t convert on some of the plays that are usually money. Like I said in the recap, Pau missed two shots right around the rim, and there was another play where he had Harrington sealed, had an open baseline, and decided to take a hook shot off of a reverse-pivot instead of getting the easy layup or dunk. I think Kobe taking a lot of shots early really set the tone of the game. When we were finally able to get to the game, I believe Marv Albert said that Kobe was already 0 for six at that point. I don’t think that Harrington and Nene’s physical play had too much to do with Gasol, his down game had more to do with his lack of rhythm. So far this season, Gasol has had his best games when he was able to get going early (which is also true for LO). Yeah, Kobe did try to make some better plays in the second half, but those were plays he should have been making earlier in the game, which in turn, would have helped Gasol’s rhythm AND opened up things for himself later on.

    With all of that being said, the Morning Links are up:

    http://www.forumblueandgold.com/2010/11/12/around-the-world-wide-web-lakersnuggets-reactions-2/

  26. Kobe is not a perfect player. Nobody is, or ever has been – not Michael Jordan, not Bill Russell, not Wilt Chamberlain, not Jerry West, not Oscar Robertson.

    Besides, it takes an enormous amount of ego to succeed in the game of professional sports. Those that don’t have the ego get crushed in the process and go on to something less cutthroat.

    However, both Kobe and Phil Jackson know what is happening in a game before us fans get a glimmer. That is their job; that is their passion.

    When things are not going right Kobe is going to go into shooting mode – that is just the way he is built. It does absolutely no good for us to complain about it, unless we desire him to ply his trade elsewhere. He is built that way, he was trained that way, he focuses that way, he scored 81pts that way.

    This is the single most dangerous individual in the NBA that we could have on our team. How about we live with the things we don’t especially care for, because, ultimately, he makes us a better team.

  27. I have to agree that LA didnt play that bad of a game on the road against a known enemy where the fans and players seem to drink redbull all day anticipating the duel. This contest was lost in the last 4 mins of play, the score was tied at 105-105, the next 2 mins the Nugs built a 9 point lead. Lakers just couldnt execute down the stretch on the defensive or offensive end. I will take this teams chances of winning with 4 min left score tied against anyone in the league coming out on top the majority of time. Last night was just a bad night, it happens, not pleased but LA wasnt going to go 82-0.

  28. Craig W,
    ” It does absolutely no good for us to complain about it, unless we desire him to ply his trade elsewhere. ”

    It never does any good if we, as fans, complain about, or praise, or discuss, anything about any team in sports. But those are valid criticisms, and it’s silly to imply that Kobe can’t change.

  29. Phillip,
    I just don’t think things happen by accident. There is a reason Gasol seems to be “out of rhythm” whenever he faces physical true centers. He was getting abused by Nene in the post on defense as well. Those things will mentally effect a basketball player along with being out muscled. But this is not and should not be a knock on Gasol. He is a PF. Asking a finesse PF to play well against a physical Center is just silly.

  30. Real reasons for loosing effort:

    Violet Palmer phantom calls.
    Lethargic Pau.
    Back to his old ways Odom.
    Non existent Ron Artest defense on Melo.Has he slipped over the boxes lately?

  31. I liked what I saw of Shannon Brown last night. He’s almost an entirely different player compared to last season, and I like it. By upgrading a couple of other positions on the bench we got an upgraded Shannon Brown as well. It’s a good deal.

    Yesterday was a frustrating loss, mainly becuase of the flashes of brilliance that occasionally showed and that, if maintained, could have won us the game. At the same time, I don’t think any of us really expected the Lakers to go 72-10 this season either. We’re going to lose some games, and a road game against a tough team aching to beat is as good a loss as any.

    I’m a lot more bothered by how we lost.

  32. I know it’s one game in November, but all the pundits emphasize the Lakers advantage in size-Be nice if they could at least try to post up someone in the 4th quarter instead of going 3-happy. Even working the ball inside/out would be better than some of those long bombs.

    You can see Phil doesn’t entirely dislike a loss like this, reinforces the right way to play. All he has to do is pull out the tape of last night’s 4th quarter.

    Turning the page.

  33. I didn’t get to watch this game, but I do know that this is now two games in a row where Kobe seems to have an inordinate number of shots to put up less-than-stellar numbers.

    Hate to see us lose to the Nuggets, EVER…but oh well.