For the third consecutive game the final buzzer has sounded with the Lakers trailing on the scoreboard. This time it was a two point defeat as the Lakers fell to the Grizzlies 98-96 in a game that might as well been a replay from Sunday’s game against the Pacers. Because while the details of the game were a bit different, the Lakers again showed up and down effort against a game opponent and tried to make a push in the closing minutes that fell just short. There was even a botched last possession at the end of the game to make tonight’s game look even more familiar.
In the end, some wordy explanation as to what occurred in this game isn’t really needed. As I mentioned in the game preview the Lakers aren’t clicking on either side of the ball and to a certain extent they’re their own worst enemy right now.
Against the Grizz the Lakers would forego running their offense to instead run isolation sets where nearly every other Laker stood around watching his mate with the ball try to score one on one. Mind you this approach will work just fine when the offensive player is making shots. But in those cases it really just masks the fact that the execution isn’t quite right. But on nights like tonight where Kobe is struggling to knock down jumpers (9-25 from the field, 1-6 from behind the arc) and Gasol isn’t his normal efficient self either (5-13 from the field), the Lakers need to do a better job of executing their sets by hitting the open man on time, setting hard screens, and cutting hard. In essence, they need to to a better job of helping each other because the tactic of attacking man up just isn’t working. And tonight against the Grizzlies, that one on one approach only led to forced jumpers where players looked for the individual talent of their guys to bail out the team rather than working together to get the types of shots that are usually going to be more efficient.
The other byproduct of the Lakers offensive approach tonight was how their sloppiness and ineffectiveness led to equally average results on defense. Too many times the Lakers’ missed shots led to run outs for Memphis going the other way where easy baskets were earned in transition. Even when the Grizzlies didn’t get out in the open court for an uncontested shot, the fact that they were able to operate against an unset and scrambling Lakers’ defense meant that shots came easier than they would have if the Lakers had been able to properly balance the floor and retreat back on defense on their own terms. This all meant that Mike Conley (who, by the way, had an excellent game) was able to operate in space where he excels and attack off the dribble into a defense where the second layer of help was consistently late or, worse yet, not there at all. This then fueled his confidence to the point that his jumper (which is improved from season’s past) was consistently taken in rhythm when the Lakers backed off him in both the open court and when going under screens on the P&R.
Overall, where the Lakers deserve the most criticism tonight (and, really, in several of their recent games) is that they’re just not paying attention to the finer details of the game until their backs are completely against the wall. And against the Grizzlies (as it was against the Pacers) their final push to try and pull out the win wasn’t enough and came at too late a juncture. And while it’d be easy to lament on and on about the Lakers not playing hard or them being complacent, I’m not quite there yet. The losses are frustrating and there are things to improve on but 5 losses by a total of 22 points and every single one of them coming against quality teams (yes, quality teams) that have played well has me cutting this team some slack right now. Again, they’re off their game but these recent performances haven’t erased from my memory the games from the first couple of weeks where the ball movement was superb, the offense was flowing at an all time level, and the defense – while leaving something to be desired – stepped up on many key possessions to bring home victories. I mean, this team just doesn’t have it’s “A” game and while some of that needs to be credited to the opponent, a lot of it also has to do with things that the Lakers can ultimately control through their own actions.
So, tomorrow is a new night and the Lakers will look to right the ship against the Rockets. I’d be lying if I said that I see tomorrow being any easier than the last few games but I’m also confident that the Lakers won’t let this loss linger and will be ready to play tomorrow’s game. Until then, vent away but understand that this Lakers team has had some success in dealing with adversity and as Ron Artest said after tonight’s loss, “Now we’re in the season. Now we have to fight.”