Coming into this contest I thought there was a great chance that this could be a trap game. With the Celtics coming into to town on Sunday, I thought it’d be very easy for the Lakers to only go through the motions versus the Kings, simply relying on talent in the hope that outclassing the woeful division opponent would be fairly routine. Well, let’s just say that I’m very disappointed to have been right as the Lakers fell 100-95, surrendering their momentum from strong wins in the past week and spoiling a night where Kobe passed Hakeem Olajuwon to become the 8th leading scorer in league history.
This game was lost on two levels.
First was on the defensive end. Rather than put the clamps on the Kings in the manner that they did the Thunder and Nuggets in their two previous wins, the Lakers decided to only play on one side of the ball. They continuously gave up open shots to the Kings and paid for it with made shot after made shot by the visiting team.
DeMarcus Cousins led the way, showing off his tremendous range as he consistently hit his 18-20 foot jumper as the Lakers tempted him to take that shot. After finding his rhythm from distance, he then took the ball inside and used a combination of power and touch to get off decent looks that even when decently defended (which was sporadic at best) he was able to knock down. The promising young big man finished the night with 27 points on 19 shots and collected 10 rebounds against the Lakers big men as no one seemed to have an answer for his versatile offensive attack.
But the poor defense wasn’t limited to the big men. The Lakers’ wing defenders didn’t do that great a job either as they consistently gave up dribble penetration, got beat on cuts when caught ball watching, and also gave up too many uncontested jumpers when they were forced to help in the paint due to their other mishaps. Quite the trifecta.
Really, the Lakers just weren’t hustling on that side of the ball. It showed in their rotations, it showed in their reactions to passes, and it showed on their defensive glass where they gave up 15 offensive rebounds.
The second area where the Lakers lost this game was in the performance of their big men. Typically a strength for the Lakers, tonight the combo of Pau, Bynum, and Odom couldn’t seem to gain any traction. Bynum had a solid game with 12 points (on 4 of 8 shooting), but only grabbed 4 rebounds in 27 minutes and was bodied all night by Cousins whenever he tried to exert himself in the offensive paint. As for Pau and Odom, they shot 4-11 (9 points) and 0-7 (4 points) respectively. And while they combined for 19 rebounds, they weren’t a presence in the paint on either side of the ball and played with little force against the Kings front line. Watching Gasol get outdone by Samuel Dalembert (18 points, 5 rebounds) was especially frustrating considering how much time they spent guarding each other in the 2nd and 3rd quarters (where Pau allowed Sammy to get to his spots so easily that it inspired a confidence that led to him taking fadeaway 15 footers and me calling him Hakeem Dalembert on twitter).
As for the other Lakers, Kobe had a good statistical game (38 points on 27 shots, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals) and did his best to try and keep the Lakers afloat. He really did play a complete game and was playing so well (and was the only consistent spark for the team) that Phil played him the entire 2nd half in the hope that he could carry the team home. Shannon Brown also played well as he poured in 17 points on 11 shots and hit a number of big jumpers in the 2nd half in helping the Lakers cut the large deficits they faced in the final 24 minutes. But, just like Kobe, Shannon didn’t have enough down the stretch and the team ultimately fell short.
In the end, this game was just extremely disappointing. The Lakers, knowing what needed to be done to win the game, barely tried early and dug themselves too big a hole to climb out of late. I’m not sure if they’ll ever learn the lesson of playing harder for long enough for them to seize games against lesser teams but watching them go through the motions tonight was especially frustrating. Credit the Kings for making shots, stepping up, and seizing the game in the 2nd half, but I can’t help but point out that so much of tonight’s result was based off the Lakers playing a sloppy complacent game for most of the contest. When the Lakers finally decided to turn up the defensive pressure in the final frame, they outscored the Kings 24-15. It’s not a stretch to think that 4th quarter could have been reproduced in earlier portions of the game with the ultimate result being different. Instead the Lakers coasted and they got burned for it. Hopefully, Sunday will bring a different temperament and a victory.