Lakers/Rockets: The Losses Continue To Pile Up

Darius Soriano —  December 1, 2010
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan

AP Photo/Pat Sullivan

In what is becoming a common occurrence, the Lakers lost another close game on Wednesday night (even though the final score doesn’t reflect it).  This time the opponent was the Houston Rockets and the Lakers were unable to hold on to a late lead and ultimately fell 109-99 to drop their 4th straight contest.  This is now the longest Lakers’ losing streak in 4 seasons and if I was the panicking type, now would be the time that I’d start to do just that.  Since I’m not though, you’ll just have to read about how it happened…

The game started out well for the Lakers even if the results weren’t always perfect.  The Lakers offense was much improved from previous nights as the ball moved around the court and each player was active and able to get up shots within the flow of the Triangle.  Early post ups were ran for Odom and Gasol and the team was showing a cohesiveness on that side of the ball that had been absent for several games.  Defensively the Lakers also looked good early. They scrambled on defense, did a good job of closing down the paint, contested shots at the rim, and got a few deflections when the Rockets tried to make forced passes against that active D.  So, even though the Rockets still got some good looks off penetrations and kick outs and the game was close the Lakers looked to be in control.

However, most of why this game was close was based off the Lakers offense and, even more specifically, the dynamic play of Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant early on.  Tonight, Odom simply had one of those games that reminds people of his immense and natural talent.  Whether in the post, driving in the half or open court, or pulling up for his jumper, Odom was making shot after shot and doing so in a calm, controlled manner.  The Rockets simply didn’t have an answer for Odom as he constantly found ways to checkmate his defender by using his diverse skill set to his advantage.  If a smaller player was on him he’d find a way to get into the paint and shoot over the top of his man.  If a bigger player was on him he’d use his handle to either get to the rim off the dribble or create enough space to shoot his jumper.  And since nearly every shot that Odom took was going down (11-16 on the night, 2-4 from behind the arc) the Rockets had to respect every facet of his game.

And then there was Kobe Bryant (at least early, we’ll get to his end of game performance a bit later) who, while not perfect by any means, was playing a very good floor game.  He was moving the ball to the open man and looking to get his shots mostly within the flow of the offense.  He was sticking his jumper even when well defended and it looked like Kobe was well on his way to having an efficient night where his ability to get shots within the Triangle while still able to create his own shot when needed would be a real difference maker.

But as the game wore on, certain negative trends started to take hold and they’d ultimately be the difference between the Lakers winning and losing.  First and foremost the Lakers defense just couldn’t come up with stops consistently.  The perfect example came late in the first half where the Lakers pushed their lead to double digits and looked to be in complete control only to have the Rockets make a quick run that cut the margin to 3 points at halftime.  An unbalanced offense led to quick baskets on primary and secondary Houston fast breaks where the Lakers couldn’t contain dribble penetration.  This then led to easy baskets at the rim, offensive rebound chances after helpers committed, and open jumpers off drives and kicks that the Rockets knocked down.

Over the rest of the game this continued in spurts as the Lakers just could never generate any breathing room and get a comfortable cushion on Houston.  So the game stayed close and with a Rockets push it was a three point game in the closing minutes.  Which, up to this point in the season, hasn’t been a situation that the Lakers have thrived in.  And tonight that trend continued.

It’s difficult to really pin-point where it all went wrong as it really seemed like several things happened all at once and snowballed on the Lakers.  A Shane Battier three pointer tied the game at 97 with 2:52 left.  On the ensuing Laker possession Kobe missed a turnaround jumper from the elbow which led to the Rockets pushing the ball up court and finding Battier in the corner who again nailed a three pointer to give the Rockets a three point lead.  Kobe then got fouled on a drive and sank the ensuing two FT’s, but those would be the last points the Lakers scored and there was still 2:16 left on the game clock.  What followed was bad possessions on both sides of the ball where Kobe would slip trying to defend Battier who then sank a jumper and then Derek Fisher getting caught with the ball in his hands as the shot clock wound down and having to force a jumper that drew nothing as a 24 second violation occurred.  On the next possession the Lakers still had life after Kevin Martin was called for a travel but instead got nothing but a contested Kobe three pointer and it was all downhill from there.  A foul on Shane Battier’s three point attempt made it a 6 point game and the Lakers could only muster bad shot after bad shot on possession after possession to end the game.  The final margin ended up being 10 because the Lakers continued to foul after Houston controlled the rebounds off the aforementioned misses.

So the Lakers have now lost 4 in a row and 6 of their last 11 games.  I’ll repeat that this isn’t a time to panic but it’s definitely a time where frustration is understood.  The Lakers are losing close games and seem to be pressing down the stretch of contests when, considering their pedigree and experience, you’d think the opposite would occur.  They’ve got some issues to work out but with Bynum coming back at some point before Christmas the only thing to really do is ride this out the best that they can.  As Phil Jackson said after the game “It’s way too early in the season (to be concerned about the losing streak). We just have to hang on and (find) the right spot for our team to get better. We have some guys struggling, not playing well, but (some of) our guys I thought picked it up pretty well.” And with that, the Lakers just need to move on.  They next play on Friday and then don’t play again until Tuesday so with the schedule slowing down they can get some needed rest (especially Gasol who experienced some tightness in his hamstring during the game).  And with no reinforcements on the immediate horizon, rest is where they’ll need to find that extra boost.  Hey, no one said it would be easy.

Darius Soriano

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27 responses to Lakers/Rockets: The Losses Continue To Pile Up

  1. I’m a Celtics fan from Boston, but I live in LA (a few miles from Staples actually) and though I’m not a Laker fan by any stretch of the imagination I have many friends who are. Remember what the Celtics went through last year and still made it to the finals. The Lakeshow is well coached and mentally tough. Hang in there and hopefully we’ll see each other in the finals again.

  2. I’m sorry but I can’t stand this constant playing out of position BS. Why not make a trade that would last the Lakers for awhile. I like that Boston added depth to their front court. We are thin as hell and never picked up anyone. I know that a trade takes a willing partner, but Sacramento, Philly, and even Golden State and New York have said their young big men are on the market. Why not get Bynum insurance. Why beat ourselves up for one more championship when we can retool and go for two or three more. Anyone who thinks that this team can win two more as thin at it is in the front court is sorely mistaken.

  3. We should have kept Mbenga. Bad shots and all. At least he had energy.

  4. If anything, I’m glad this happened at this point in the season. A 4-game losing streak isn’t what I had in mind, but I felt like we needed something to wake our team up. We were getting more and more lax defensively, and our talent was covering up those deficiencies. Now, they’re forced to address those defensive issues with some urgency, and it’s happening at a point in the season when very little is at stake. All in all, not the worst thing for our team.

  5. Can we please stop using the “players are playing too many minutes,” “big men getting burned out” or “they just need some rest” excuses?!

    It’s ridiculous. These men are professional athletes, paid to be in shape and we’re only a month into the season. Playing 40+ minutes a game at this point should not be a problem and Pau had the summer off.

    If anyone has a gripe about playing too many minutes right now it’s Lamar, and he’s the only one who looks in shape.

    These losses are about one thing only – lack of effort on the defensive end. Yes, the WC is stacked – but giving up close to 100 points to teams like Memphis and a depleted Houston squad is definitely not championship caliber…

    December road trip is looking more and more perilous

  6. Lack of frontcourt wasn’t the issue tonight. It was the just complete lack of overall team defense from every position. Unfortunately, Fisher and Blake can’t really guard anyone, so with Pau at the 5 we are always switching our defenders and left with noone to protect the paint.
    I did like the play of Barnes and Odom tonight, but you could just feel that Houston was scoring much more easily than our guys on every trip. Every 2 points for the Lakers looked like a lot of work, while Houston just had some smooth wide open threes and layups.
    I have noticed that since about the Denver games, once teams commit that hard double on Kobe with about 12 seconds left on the shotclock, the Lakers never have quick enough playmakers/ball movement to get up something easy. Pau is a really good player, but if he only has 6 seconds by the time the ball gets to him he is limited and his defender can play him as such.
    Not time really to call for a trade, but would be nice to have some young/learning/excited bodies out there with something to prove, as we looked aged tonight.

  7. I agree with Cdog, late in games it really does seem like the Lakers work their $*(@! off for 2-3 points, then the other team rolls for 6 easy ones. In general, everyone just seems somewhat lost on the defensive end at times, and a bit tight on the offensive end in late game situations. Not enough to have me worried, but it’s there. The KCAL broadcast did a good job showing how the team defense is fairly rough right now, with 2 defenders many times rotating to the same man, mis-communications, etc. There are positives though, because there were still some steals and other turnovers caused by effort and active hands. The team is definitely trying, it just needs some work. I figure that this is what the first quarter of the season is for anyway.

  8. How about the fact that Kobe has been playing some of the worst defense of his career this year. The backcourt has beaten us each of the last four losses and you can’t put all the blame on Fisher/Blake.

    Kobe’s roving has created steal and double team opportunities in the past, but he obviously doesn’t have the speed to recover to his man before the 3 goes up. He needs to stay put on 3 shooters like Battier.

    I’m sure once we get Bynum back things will be smoother since we’ll have another big to anchor the paint, but seriously, stay on the 3 shooters. And as much as I want to like Caracter…we desperately could use Mbenga right now.

  9. I think Cdog has it pretty right. I wouldn’t put this on lack of frontcourt depth, the bigger issue is at the guards and decision-making on both ends. Of course, Kobe will win games and lose games and want that responsibility. That’s what you want from your superstar, so I tend to cut him slack (more on offense) when his good intentions to play the system start getting thrown out when it’s his time.

    I find it harder to do that with Fish. I know that he can’t be criticized without the echoes of all last year’s conversations (where he was, clearly, the best PG option in the team) but when he takes on defending his manhood against superior players (by forcing shots or gambling on D) it is harder to stomach. Of course, he has come through in the clutch so many times, but then, he has also thrown the defense into disarray so many times as someone blows by him.

    I thought Blake was a great pickup, but seeing him in action think he would be a better PG playing 25-30 mpg anchoring the offense, and having a change of pace coming off the bench. At the moment, the PG substitution of Blake for Fish takes the team’s tempo from slow, tough and not very reliable to slow, slightly less tough and more reliable. There’s just no spark there.

  10. I agree with Snoopy. I’d rather see this happen early in the season than later in the season.

    I’ve seen people talk about various facets of this slump reminding them of parts of either the 2008 season or the 2009 season.

    You know what this reminds me of? The end of last season.

    At the end of last season we struggled, we played horrible defense and we looked like we were heading toward certain doom in the playoffs.

    I maintain that we got complacent and hit a slump and needed a wake-up call. I think that is what’s happening here. The Lakers were cakewalking through the early part of the season and have returned to May of 2010 form.

    We didn’t get our wakeup call until the Thunder pushed us. I’m not sure what’s going to do that for us in the regular season, but at least it’s the regular season – and early in the regular season at that.

    Something – the Heat game on Christmas or maybe the matchup with the Spurs (who finally managed to lose last night) – will wake the Lakers back up and get them refocused.

    It’s frustrating as hell, but they’ll snap out of it. They’re too good not to.

  11. This is just a slump it happens every year so who cares…All that matters is game one of the playoffs!

    http://hoopdreamz.wordpress.com/

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hoop-Dreamz-Basketball-Blog/140200592696875

  12. I know Phil doesn’t like to play rookies, but given our bigs’ minutes, Caracter should get some more time. For better or worse, we will need him even when Bynum comes back. We are probably not going to sign a minimum contract back up big, so why not use the one we have, even if he is struggling (as most rookies do). What’s the worse that can happen anyway since we lost four in a row?

  13. 2.)

    Calling for a trade? Thin in the front-court? Yes, we are at this point a bit limited because of injuries, but bring just one of AB or Theo back and we are deep. Get them both with the occasional 2-3mins for DC and we are very big and very deep. A front court of AB and Pau with LO off the bench and holdover minutes for Theo is deep. Add in a couple spot minutes for the rook when needed and we are as deep in the front court as any team, not to mention the relative depth on the remainder of the bench.

  14. This latest loss bothered my quite a bit. I’m not sure why entirely as I told myself going in to be prepared but it did. What I think the team really needs is consecutive days of good practice as they look like a bunch of young players running around playing demolition derby. It’s irritating to watch.

    Sigh, they will get through this, they will go on a long winning streak and they will look like favorites to win it all again. This I know

  15. I’d just like to note that the Lakers were up 91 to 84 when Kobe came in with 6 minutes left. Phil decided to take out a red hot Matt Barnes.

    Kobe then proceeded to foul Martin on a three pointer, then Scola on a two pointer, and the lead was cut to two.

    It was all downhill from there.

    Phil made matters worse when he finally did bring back Barnes, he also subbed out Blake for Fisher.

    Fisher continues to be awful. He was awful last year, and he’s still awful this year.

    He was fantastic in Game 3 and Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

    Other than those two games, he was what he continues to be:

    The worst point guard in the NBA.

  16. here we go again, (only this time not from Aaron)…
    worst PG in the NBA??? … with 5 rings… not that he contributed in any of those… (this is a stale argument, don’t want to go there)

    anyway, I had a thought, what about this when Andrew can return -
    LO stays at STARTING PF, being one of our hottest, most consistent players this season, (and the bench doesn’t really need him either)
    Drew starts at C, as PJ says, after warm ups, he needs to play right away.
    Pau comes in as back up to either LO or AB, and the rotation is up to PJ after that. (plus he anchors the bench)

    I think this helps in that Pau is showing signs of fatigue, and the hammy is acting up.

    thoughts?

  17. Chris, Starting means a lot to most players as one of our 2 best players Pau has to start

  18. but wouldn’t that argument also apply to Lamar?
    I would say he’s one of the top 3, and also deserves to be a starter.
    I’m only making this suggestion for a short term, to get Pau some rest, play less minutes for a month or so.

  19. #15. You’re overreacting on Fisher. Simple as that. Forget last year and only think about this year (last year ended up pretty good, right?). You do know that Fisher had been one of the best three point shooters in the league until his recent slump (1-9 from deep in his last 5 games)? I’m not saying he’s perfect or that his decision making is right in line with what I’d want each night. But I’m also not going to go in the other direction full bore and place the blame on him. He doesn’t deserve that or the title you’re trying to place on him.

    #16. I don’t see any philosophical shift coming from Phil on how he sets his lineup and I don’t see a need for it either. Bynum allows the Lakers to properly slot their players. Bynum moves Pau back to PF and allows Odom to be the bridge between the starters and subs. We’ve yet to see a game with Blake, Barnes, Brown, and Odom as the Lakers’ second unit with either Pau or Drew as the Center and I’m pretty sure that’s a group that can win some games in the 2nd and 4th quarters when the other starters rest.

    This is why it’s difficult for me to get too riled up about what we’ve seen from the Lakers. Maybe the early results were a bit of a mirage and the heavy lifting of Pau and inevitable cool down of the shooters is now taking hold and upon the team. BUT, we still haven’t seen this full team play 1 game together. The starting Center hasn’t played a single minute and he’s a pretty important guy – if not from a tangible production standpoint, then surely from a domino effect standpoint of helping the team properly allign their lineups. I know it’s hard to be patient in the face of losing close games where things seem to fall apart at the end. But in reality, some of these games wouldn’t even be close at the end (in the Lakers’ favor) if the full team was at the disposal of the coaches. I’m not making excuses and you make due with what you have but to act like there’s something seriously wrong with the makeup of this team is off base considering we haven’t yet seen this full team.

  20. It’s pretty bad right now. I did not get a chance to watch last night’s game. However, I remember turning on ESPN radio to check the score. It was late in the third with the Lakers up 74 to 73. Right away I had a bad feeling. With Houston being at home, and the game in dead heat, mixed with the Lakers recent inability to close out games, I expected a loss.

    I don’t know what to make of Pau’s fatigue. On one hand you would think the 30 year old Gasol is good for 40 (fairly good) minutes a night in the short term. He did get to rest this summer. On the other hand if his hamstring is acting up then the fatigue is real. That has to be an issue of concern. If his body is wearing down 20 games into the season from a 40 minute a game grind, then it could spell real problems down the line with Gasol.

    I like the idea of starting Lamar with Bynum (when he returns). Let Pau back Odom up. But if we are honest we all know the Triangle runs best when Pau is on the floor. The Lakers offense is actually more dependant on Pau than Kobe. The role players eat better off of Pau.

    With all that said, it’s the defense that is killing me right now. You would think a wing combination of Bryant, Barnes, and Artest would be a defensive nightmare. As another poster pointed out they are getting killed right now. I often feel like throwing blunt objects at the TV screen when I see Kobe in his “center fielder” mode. It’s like he begs young, up and coming players to have career games by giving them all the space in the world to shoot. Also, the dribble penetration has been way too frequent the last few games. Guys are getting to the cup with ease. Having a 7 foot, 285 pound Bynum on the back line will help a lot. However, I don’t like the idea of looking at Bynum as the savior. Yes, he is very valuable. But Bynum or not, these four losses were completely avoidable. The group that is there now has to find ways to play better.

  21. Also, for everyone talking about “he should be able to handle 40 minutes”, is it the same when it’s 45 and 46 each night? When you look at his game log he played 4 games in 7 nights and never played fewer than 42 minutes. In the last group of games (3 games in 5 nights) he never played less than 45. I don’t care how conditioned you are as a professional athlete (and Pau is pretty conditioned as a big man) to take the pounding and handle the double teams and be the main presence on the glass and all the hedging and recovering on the P&R and to do that each night with only getting 2 or 3 minutes of game time rest is exhausting. To do it 3 times in 5 nights is mind blowing and that’s what Gasol did.

    I really think last night he hit the proverbial wall. I mentioned this on twitter but he didn’t change ends well, had little lift in his game, and couldn’t establish the post against Brad Miller and Jordan Hill. You add the hamstring issue and it’s clear that he’s a bit gassed. The thing is though, there’s no easy solution. Caracter had a good stint last night but in other games he hasn’t. There’s no other big man on the roster right now besides Odom. Do we want Odom playing Center and pushing 45 minutes a night? He’s already playing 40 a night as well.

    This is why I’m saying the Lakers just need to hang tough. It’s all caught up to them some but today’s team isn’t tomorrows and when taking the long view there’s less reason to worry. A 4 game skid is a short term deal, but if looking at the season as a whole it matters in some ways (HCA and whatnot) but not in the larger scheme of how they’ll be able to play when the second season comes.

  22. Wish I had a buck for every time I read a variation of “just wait’ll Bynum gets back”.

    That’s probably what Blazers fans have been saying about Oden, Rockets lovers about Yao …

  23. #23. What’s that mean exactly? That the Lakers shouldn’t expect to get their Center back? I don’t see Bynum as some savior, but he’s important. The other thing is that he actually will be back. If for some reason he’s not available at another point during the year then expectations will shift and adjustments will be needed. But at this point, why the hand wringing over thoughts about him at some point returning. Do you know something others don’t?

  24. I find it very interesting that the Lakers have lost 4 games in 4 rather different ways.

    Utah loss = Lakers flattening out after masterful Q1 and getting shredded by an all-world PG.

    Indiana loss = Lakers playing sluggishly for 3 quarters while good big man kills them from the high and low posts.

    Memphis loss = Laker offense devloving into useless ISOs while defense is unable to stop balanced attack lead by good PG play.

    Houston loss = Lakers get crushed in transition while other team’s bench overachieves.

    If there’s any cause to worry, it is that the style of ball being played by the Spurs looks, on paper, to be a worst case match-up: great PG, smart big man, lot of transition offense, good balance and discipline across the roster.

    Regardless of who is healthy for the good guys, that game on the 28th in San Antonio will be hugely important. We’ll start to know if this Lakers team really has fatal flaws or if this four-game losing streak is just a misstep in a long, righteous journey.

    Thus far, the only takeaway for me from the skid is that there probably won’t be any Game 7 in LA. Not after the 2nd round anyway. I know it’s a long season, but this week has created the wrong kind of separation for the Lakers. And I believe we’ll look back at the skid as the reason why the Lakers will have to earn this three-peat on the road.

    (There is gonna be another three-peat? Right?)

  25. I said after the pacers game that the way the lakers had been winning was fools gold. The lakers were shooting lights out and well over 40% from downtown, including fisher. Now that Brown and Fisher have cooled off, which should’ve been expected, the lakers can’t score 100 points. Yes, a lot has to do with Pau, but no one else can make a shot either.

    The sad part is the offense isn’t the worst of their worries. Their defense is absolutely terrible. The Lakers opponent has shot at least 49% from the field in three of the 4 recent losses. Someone said earlier the lakers look absolutely confused on defense most of the time. Miscommunication, switching on every pick and roll even if there no need to, not rotating when players don’t switch on picks, and if they do rotate, two players are rotating to the open man leaving a guy open. And that’s on Phil. Nobody except Stu and Joel are harping on their defensive strategy. Why does Fisher double team who everybody in the post. Why is there a need to double Chuck Hayes and Scola in the post. Either that says a lot about Odom’s and Gasol’s defense of capabilities or Phil, or maybe both. But Fisher does that to every big man in every game and the same result happens. In addition to that, Kobe hasn’t played a lick of defense either. Some of it’s understandable because of the knee, but a lot of it has been a pure lack of effort. But the lakers have been playing bad defense the entire year, but their offense overshadowed their defense. Now their struggling on offense and they look like the clippers. It’s time for Phil to get up and start preparing these guys. It’s obvious they don’t have a clue on what’s going on. Is this some psychological game he’s playing to prevent feelings of complacency?

    One last thing, what in the hell is going on with Artest. Is this the Sasha Vujacic situation. He can’t scratch 30 minutes on a injury depleted team. Some nights he hasn’t even played 20 minutes.
    Something’s just not right with this team. Teams have good a bad stretches, but this is unprecedented for championship caliber teams coached by Phil Jackson. I don’t want to think about this too much, but the last time the lakers were on a 4 game losing streak, KWAME BROWN was the lakers starting center.

  26. overreacting will get no one nowhere, we are still early in the season. This will not set a precedent for the next 6, yes SIX, months remaining in the season. With a rookie for a backup center, the options are limited. Forget Bynum, once we get Theo back things will get better.