On Monday, in the wake of the loss to the Heat, I wrote the following:
Besides changing the mental approach of the team, the Lakers also need to shore up their on court play and improve their execution on both sides of the ball in order to truly improve. Greater focus will only go so far if that mental energy is still expended on doing things incorrectly.
Tonight proved to be a perfect example of the point I was trying to make when I wrote that. Against the Spurs the Lakers came out with more energy and had a strong fighting spirit. However, much of that energy was misguided as the team worked itself into a such frenzy that and it resulted in everyone pressing to do the right thing (especially on offense) but rarely actually accomplishing it.
The king of this was Kobe. #24 started out the game aggressive (just as I wanted him to be) and he converted on 4 of his first 5 baskets. He looked sharp as his jumper was falling and he was able to get to good spots on the floor to work in his comfort zone. But that early success led to him completely abandoning the offense and going off on his own to try and score the ball and with little success to show for it the rest of the night. Mr. Bean finished the night with 21 points on 27 shots. To pile onto his inefficiency he finished with 5 turnovers to only 1 assist. In a bizarro NBA, that kind of backwards stat line is great but against the team with the league’s best record, not so much.
Kobe wasn’t alone in playing erratic though. Derek Fisher had more fouls (4) than points (2) and even earned a technical foul as he chased down Richard Jefferson after being knocked off the ball when trying to get a rebound on a fast break. To my eyes, the play was clean as Fish simply got caught up in the wash as RJ aggressively went for the ball to get a put back. Derek, though, took offense to getting put on the ground and provided another example of the Lakers misdirecting their energy. Rather than Fisher using his anger as motivation to play harder, he ran halfway down the court to try and get in the face of the opposition and intimidate his way to success. I must say that while I liked the tenacity, it should have been used to play better defense or to set better screens in the Lakers floundering half court sets.
Adding to the Lakers’ backcourt’s misfortune was the play of Shannon Brown and Steve Blake. Combined they shot 2-16 from the floor and never got in the flow of the Lakers sets. Blame Kobe’s gunning or the overall lack of cohesion shown on that side of the ball all night, but both couldn’t hit shots while continuing to just fire away (especially Shannon). Countless times Brown declined post passes in order to take a jumper or drive the ball into traffic and it didn’t end well a single time (his lone make came on a kick out from the post).
The Lakers’ starting front court wasn’t any better as Gasol and Odom combined for 18 points on 17 shots with neither grabbing double digit rebounds in a combined 71 minutes of game action. Both big men looked slow to the ball on offense (Pau consistently got beat to post entry passes all night) and couldn’t ever seem to fully take advantage of the chances they had when they did have the ball with a good opportunity to do something positive.
Meanwhile, the Spurs just continued to prove why they’re one of the best teams in the league. On a night where Duncan and Ginobili were pedestrian, Tony Parker and DeJuan Blair both had huge nights exploiting the Lakers tentative interior defense. Parker used his lightning quickness to get out in the open court and finish at the rim in transition or masterfully used screens in the half court to either get off uncontested jumpers or penetrate the lane. Tony finished with a game high 23 points and easily could have had more had this game been closer and he played more than the 34 minutes he got on the night. Then there was Blair who simply beasted the Lakers in the paint both scoring and rebounding the ball. The undersized Spur tallied 17 points and 15 rebounds (including 6 offensive) on the night and consistently outworked the Lakers by diving hard to the rim at every opportunity.
Really, the Lakers were simply outclassed. Again. Even with the positives of Bynum playing well (4-4 FG, 10 points, 7 rebounds), Barnes continuing to show his value, Artest beginning to break out of his offensive funk (4-9 FG, 10 points, solid drives, decisiveness), and the Lakers putting together one of their better quarters by erasing a 9 point deficit in the 2nd frame to take a halftime lead, the negatives of their misdirected energy and focus doomed them tonight. While I do believe this game can be used as a stepping stone of sorts, I’m not convinced that this team has yet figured out a way to fully incorporate all their players while committing to the offensive and defensive schemes in a way that will create success. Tomorrow they get to try and prove that they can properly channel their frustration and anger into positive play but as even the most optimistic fan, I’ll have to see it first before I predict that it will actually happen. As I’ve said after recent games, this team is a long way from being the unit it needs to be to truly compete. So while I still have patience, it’s slowly deteriorating as the frustration builds.