The Lakers came into the game against Orlando winners of four straight on their current Grammy Road Trip, playing as well as we’ve seen them on the defensive end, and moving the ball better than we had seen all season. The team was clicking, beating good teams and all of it was on the road. In Game 5 of the road trip, the Lakers didn’t change anything about their game. They played well defensively (for the most part), they moved the ball well, they fed the bigs, and they worked for open shots — it was just one of those nights where shots didn’t fall.
Naturally, this game was more than just missed and made shots, and we’ll get into those other aspects, but the Lakers did a lot things right against Orlando. Take a look at the shot distribution. Five guys had more than 10 shot attempts, and the combination of Bynum, Gasol and Odom took 38 of the Lakers 84 field goal attempts, shooting a shade under 50 percent together. On most nights, getting that many attempts out of the Lakers bigs would result in a win. Kobe only took 18 shots, with not many of them outside of the flow of the offense and the Lakers assisted on 19 of their 33 makes. However, the Lakers couldn’t buy a jump shot. Derek Fisher was 2-7; Ron Artest was 2-6; Steve Blake was 0-2; and Shannon Brown was 3-11.
As a team, the Lakers shot just under 40 percent from the field, 12.5 from the three-point line and 46.7 percent from the free-throw line. However, they only had eight turnovers, turned over Orlando 16 times and got to the free-throw line at a higher rate. They took more shots, closed out on Orlando’s their shooters, and had more offensive rebounds. The Lakers biggest issue tonight was putting the ball through the rim — that and Dwight Howard.
Howard finished the first half with nine points, six rebounds and three fouls. He finished the game with 31 points and 13 rebounds. Stan Van Gundy went to Howard on the first play out of the half, he got an easy layup, and his rhythm was established then. After a couple of outside shots made by Hedo Turkoglu and Ryan Anderson, it became increasingly more difficult to defend Howard as the game progressed. He was knocking down jump hooks, layups, catching alley-oops, hit a 13-foot bank shot on the right side, making free-throws, and had a couple of dunks off of missed Magic shots, both of which were back breaking.
With just over a minute left in the third quarter, Kobe hit a jumper to cut the Magic lead down to five points. It looked as if the Lakers would go into the fourth down by that deficit, but Gilbert Arenas heaved an off balanced three pointer toward the rim as time expired, Howard caught the air-ball and promptly dunked it in right before the buzzer sounded. Then, with 5:37 left to play, Jason Richardson missed a long two with the Lakers down 12. A rebound gives them the stop they need with an opportunity to cut into the lead. Pau Gasol had position on Howard, but Howard was able to leap over Gasol for the tip dunk because Gasol failed to put a body on him. Gasol is called for a foul, Howard hits the freebie, and the lead is extended to 15 points.
So yes, the Lakers couldn’t hit a shot, but Howard’s second half performance made things easier on the Magic, who didn’t have their best offensive performance of the year, either. The other thing that hurt the Lakers was rebounding, which, of course, Howard had a lot to do with. But the Lakers missed 51 shots, but only had 11 offensive rebounds. Their inability to hit shots, or grab rebounds from their myriad missed shots may have had something to do with this being their third road game in four nights, but you have to give credit to the Orlando defense for closing out defensive possessions with defensive rebounds. After Howard, Brandon Bass (8), Jason Richardson (6), and Ryan Anderson (5) all did a great job on the boards, helping to limit the amount of Laker possessions.
The Lakers play again tomorrow night against the Charlotte Bobcats, a team they’ve struggled in the past two years. The game tips off at 4 p.m. Pacific Time.