In basketball, they say you live by the three and you die by the three. Well, tonight the Suns lived like rich kings in massive castles constructed on the strength of their hot shooting. They literally could not miss from distance for much of the night and it all led to the Lakers second consecutive loss as they fell to the Suns 121-116.
I’m going to be completely honest here, this is a difficult game for me to really get a grasp on. I mean, sometimes there are games that are microcosms of a season and sometimes games are an anomaly. Tonight’s game against the Suns was a bit of both. Because while the Suns were ridiculously hot, sinking 22 of their 40 three point attempts (setting a new franchise record and falling one short of tying an NBA record) – a stat that is a bit fluky in itself, they did so against a Lakers defense that was mostly lax, but other times quite good.
So, there’s no real way for me to break this game down other than to say that Phoenix was quite good at hitting their three point shots. Most times that was because the Lakers defense was struggling to find shooters in transition or because the Suns penetration broke down the D which forced the Lakers to help and opened up passing lanes to other shooters. Other times the Lakers were just a step slow and paid for it with a made 3 ball from one of the six Suns players that buried such a shot. But there were also times where the Lakers did everything right and still paid with a made three pointer by their opponent. At one point in the 2nd quarter I went from frustrated Laker fan to completely in awe of the display that the Suns were putting on, their shooting was so good. It literally looked like a lay up line from 23 feet away. There are many nights where a lesser team would have cooled off, but tonight the Suns were not a lesser team.
But, despite all of the made bombs, this game was still close. And you only need to look at the boxscore to figure out why. The Lakers out rebounded the Suns by 17 (49-32) and outscored them by 40 in the paint (68-28). Kobe, Gasol, and Odom combined for 75 points, 37 rebounds, and 20 assists. The Lakers pretty much had their way with the Suns in the paint (who were without Robin Lopez for most of the night due to a sprained knee he suffered in the first half) and seemed to be able to get a good look inside whenever they wanted. It only seemed like a matter of time before the Lakers clamped down on defense (or the Suns just started missing) and then proceed to get the baskets they needed to pull away.
Only, it never really happened. And this is why this game is both an anomaly and starting to feel like a trend on the season. You see, the Lakers just haven’t brought the same caliber of defense in the early part of this campaign. We can blame it on a variety of factors – integrating new players, missing Andrew Bynum, playing very good offenses – but the fact remains that the Lakers have been hovering around 10th in the NBA in defensive efficiency and unless they start to play smarter and harder on that side of the ball that number isn’t going to change. I’m nowhere close to saying that the Lakers won’t improve as the above mentioned factors change for the better, but it’s also going to take the Lakers shifting their focus more to performing better on that side of the ball. Defense is a mentality and the Lakers have had a wandering focus this season.
All that said, I’m not anywhere near panicking. Despite the Lakers not playing very good defense (and even when they did, the Suns beating it anyway) this game was still ripe for the taking. In the closing minute the Lakers cut the lead to 2 after getting a stop and running a very good offensive possession that resulted in Odom getting a lay up. However on that play, Odom’s emotions got the best of him and he drew a technical foul for complaining to the ref for not calling a foul on the finish. After the subsequent FT by Nash pushed the lead to 3, Hedo Turkoglu hit a (what else) deep three to push the lead back to 6 and that was essentially the ball game. Kobe did try to hit a couple of three point shots that could be considered questionable, but I didn’t have too much a problem with those shots considering the time on the clock, the FT shooters that the Suns possess, and the fact that it was a two possession game. The circumstances were not with the Lakers and if it wasn’t quite desperation time, it would be very quickly. In those instances the ball belongs in Kobe’s hands and I’m usually trusting of what happens next.
In the end though, the Lakers fell short and we sit here wondering how two winnable games became losses. There are definitely areas that need improvement and places to assign blame but I think going too far in that direction would be a mistake. Yes the team needs to play better defense (which is probably an understatement), but getting healthy and finally having the full roster at the coach’s disposal is a bigger key for me. This is even more the case with word just coming out tonight that Odom is undergoing an MRI on his foot for what Phil Jackson is calling a “bone bruise”. This team shouldn’t be judged too harshly yet, not after 10 games and a couple of close, though tough to swallow losses. I’m still preaching patience (and will be for a while) as the marathon of this season is just getting started.