Thoughts From Another Loss

Darius Soriano —  April 9, 2011

I’m a sucker for old quotes from great coaches.

One of my favorites is the Vince Lombardi line, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all”. The quote is so simple, yet so true. In professional football, this translates to lack of tackling and blocking – or the fundamental acts that help you win at that game. Being that football is such a physical sport, the fact that players stop doing these things when fatigued can come off as cowardice. Pretty straight forward stuff.

In basketball, it’s different however. In basketball fatigue shows up in the form of mental errors, flat-footed defense, jump shots that come up woefully short, the ball being taken right out of a player’s hands, lack of desire to run back on D or challenge shots at the rim, and several other acts that mirror laziness or lack of desire to play hard. This isn’t exactly cowardice, but it’s a parallel path.

Against the Blazers, that above paragraph aptly describes the Lakers. It led to another loss, this time by the count of 93-86 that was no where close to describing how close this game wasn’t. Portland outworked the Lakers at every turn, running them into the ground on fast breaks and back cutting them to death in the half court. When a team with only one capable big man (who also happens to thrive as a jump shooter) scores 44 points in the paint (while limiting the Lakers to only 36), it pretty much sums up the game. The Blazers controlled the basket area, the Lakers struggled to keep up, and that was that. Digging into the gory details isn’t necessary; if you’ve seen the previous three losses you have an idea about what happened in this game.

And really, I don’t want to say I told you so, but this is from my post the other day on confidence vs. concern: “Five games in seven nights isn’t something to just gloss over and with (Portland on Friday) then (the Thunder on) Sunday making that a 7 game slate in 11 days, I’m not sure we won’t see more off-kilter play that frustrates us all.” Off-kilter is probably too kind considering the effort that we saw but, again, fatigue makes cowards of us all. The Lakers were into this game early but couldn’t keep up with the Blazers running and cutting right by them. I’d say it was upsetting (and believe me, I was frustrated), but it was also somewhat predictable. Sad to say that we may see more of this on Sunday.

(As an aside, I know that playing the fatigue card can come off as some gigantic excuse. I admit that the Lakers’ execution has been sloppy of late and that hasn’t been addressed at all in this post. I could write 800 words – double that really – on the things the Lakers are and aren’t doing from an X’s and O’s standpoint. But what I saw last night was a tired team that turned into a frustrated team. The only players that seemed to fight through their fatigue for more than short stretches were Odom and Barnes. Even Kobe’s shot making came in brief flurries at the end of the 2nd quarter and for a brief stint in the 3rd quarter. The bench made a push in the late third, but beyond that I saw a winded team that couldn’t sustain energy.)

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However, there are consequences to this. Take a look at the league standings and a harsh reality is upon us. The Lakers have the same record as Boston and Miami. Closer to home, the Lakers only have a one game lead on Dallas and only a two game cushion on Sunday’s opponent from OKC. The Lakers’ strong push that afforded them a gap in the standings is now gone and they’ll need to close the season with some wins in order to ensure that they hold onto the West’s 2nd seed, say nothing of league wide standings that influence the deepest rounds of the playoffs. By the time the playoffs start a week from today, the Lakers could be the 4th seed in the West. This is the worst case scenario, but it’s a scenario that needs to be considered.

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At this point, the Lakers – as I’ve been saying for a few days now – need rest and a reset to their minds and bodies. I’ve no doubts that their long win streak was mentally and physically taxing and the play we’ve seen of late was the inevitable crash back. I would have hoped that this team could have better held it together and not fallen as far as they have but, then again, go read the first paragraph of this post again.

In the end, I’m both more and less concerned than I was the day before. Because even though I don’t think this poor play will last through the playoffs, I’m not sure it will be cleaned up in time that it won’t negatively affect the Lakers’ seeding. Remember, last year this team was the #1 seed and their late season decline cost them nothing but HCA in the Finals against a team that didn’t make it that far (Orlando). This year, this team is still fighting for seeding in their own conference and are close to falling behind every potential team that could be an opponent should they advance to the championship round. This is not ideal and does concern me. All that said, the team that won 17 of 18 was just here a week ago. They’re too fresh in my memory for me to think that they can’t again be that team a week from now. And if that team shows up, is there really a reason to be concerned?

So, we wait. We wait for the playoffs to start and wait for tomorrow to see if the Lakers can muster the energy and desire to play well enough to stay in a game. As Phil Jackson said after last night’s game “These guys just don’t want to play hard right now”, but time is running out and the urgency to play better is here. Right now. Their coach knows it and deep down the players do too. Let’s hope we see it starting tomorrow.

Darius Soriano

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35 responses to Thoughts From Another Loss

  1. I’d say the Lakers peaked a little early. I would have rather the Lakers peak as they are going into the playoffs – which is what we all thought – and not crashing with just a few games left in the regular season.

    Fatigue or not, I still don’t think they should have lost four in a row. Two okay, three is pushing it. At some point, they needed to gather themselves and realize the points you made here. If bad play continues, we might not have homecourt against any of the real contenders.

    Like you said, we can only wait, as we have done the past two seasons.

  2. While fatigue was a factor and certainly responsible, at least partially, for last night’s performance it is more than that. During the most recent winning streak the Laker’s had back-to-backs and stretches of games that were taxing but resulted in wins. It is clear that the difference between getting punked last night and crushing everyone in their path is not only physical but mental. It relates to a mental toughness and demonstration of will that has suddenly and strangely deserted them.

    There is time. They have found this quality before. Let us hope that they rediscover it soon.

  3. This is where some of the silly losses (e.g. Cleveland, Utah, Golden State) really could come back to bite the Lakers. Rather than being comfortably locked into the two seed – they may have to scrap and fight and still could drop as low as four and most likely won’t have HCA in the finals against any of the top teams from the East. We always say that championships aren’t won in December, January or February, etc. but I am starting to rethink that notion.

    Comparisons to last year’s ending slump do not apply, as they were second only to Miami.

    Do I think the Lakers at their best, are the best team in the league? Yes. Do I think the Lakers have enough left in the tank to finish this season with a ring playing without HCA more often than not? I have my doubts.

    And I think three or four dumb losses buried in the long regular season (which make the path to the championship that much more difficult) may be the difference between a ring and no ring.

  4. I missed the game last night knowing the Lakers were gonna lose this game. We always struggle against the Blazers on the road. What bothers me is how they are losing this game. We can’t seem to score enough points. That’s what worries me the most. I think in the playoffs, we’ll be locked in on defense, but I feel with Kobe slowing down at his age, it’s going to be tough for us to score enough points. And our bench hasn’t helped.

  5. The only two Lakers that are playing with any type of confidence and aggression on offense are Kobe and Matt Barnes. Pau is in “white swan” mode, Bynum’s frustrated by lack of touches, Lamar’s shot is off, and the rest of the Lakers? No teams role players can possibly be shooting worse then the Lakers role players are.

  6. As long as we stay ahead of Miami for HCA that’s all that matters. We will have to root for Boston on Sunday.

  7. JM tremendous opening statement. I dont think we have peaked i think that phil and kobe and the training staff know this team very well. this team has shown it has it. now they need to get their legs and heads rested. come on 7 games in 11 days after that tremendous post all star run? Last year we were on a what 7 game slide heading into the play offs? we are debating seeding now, where last year we were wondering if we were going to make it out of the first and second rounds. Let them rest, they have earned our trust of them. like Phil said the season starts Sunday lets see where we are then. There is no guarantee that we wont have home court in the wcf or the finals just because we start out as a mentally and physically rested second or even 3rd seed.

  8. Seems to me our team is keen on playing in Miami. Maybe since Kobe spent so much time shooting around after that last loss. They are plain bored, fatigued, and ancy about the playoffs. Wish we had more of our reserves (Sasha, Ebanks, etc.) so we could let the starters rest.

  9. The Dude Abides April 9, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    I think the team will win the next two games (Sunday vs OKC and Tues vs SA), then lose on Wednesday in SAC on the second night of a back-to-back. That will give them the #2 seed, likely keep OKC in the #4 spot, and give the team a few days of rest before they play NOLA (hopefully) in the first round.

    The game in Utah (at altitude after losing 24 hours) on Friday last week on the second night of a back-to-back really took a lot out of them. They overcame their mental and physical fatigue to win that game, but didn’t have enough energy in the second half of the next two games at home, against DEN and Utah. Then another back-to-back vs Golden State, then only one day off and travel to POR. They are simply tired, and need a few days off to recharge their batteries. Because they see the next two teams as rivals, I see them putting out their maximum capable effort for the next two games.

  10. Last night what I saw was that the Blazers seemed to take it to-the-hole at will, just cutting and slashing through our defenses, including their big. On the other hand the Lakers would take J after J, and more than likely that shot would just miss, over and over again. Fatigue, yeah, maybe that was it, I hope so because that is a fixable problem with rest. What worries me is our seeding now, both in the West and in the Finals. They need a win Sunday very much, heck, the odds are in favor of that, right?

  11. They may be tired, but I have a solution on offense that will allow resting the guard’s legs and might actually put some points on the board: how about giving the F’n ball to Drew or to Pau?! How many more games are we going to be subjected to an endless series of jacked up 18 footers from Shannon, Blake, Fish, etc, while our bigs work hard for no reason to establish position in the post?

    And, while I’m am it, here’s an idea for the defense: Kobe, you are the leader of this team– if you are stripped of the ball, whether there’s contact or not (and usually there isn’t), get back and play some damn defense rather than taking the possession off to waive your hands like a lunatic at the ref. You don’t think your refusal to make up for your mistake on the other end of the floor is replicated by your teammates?

    I get that the team might be tired. I can understand if shots are flat or defensive rotations aren’t crisp. I don’t get why they would play so stupidly and I don’t accept how they can be so cavalier.

    We would have lost last year without HCA to Boston– now we’re about to throw it away against Bos and Mia, if not also Dal and OKC.

  12. I agree with coach Dave Miller on ESPN radio yesterday, Portland needs to win that game to avoid Lakers in the first round and same thing Lakers want to play against New Orleans in the first round. I don’t feel bad after Lakers lost to Golden St and Portland because opponents played good game. The big mistake Lakers made that is they lost to Denver and Utah in LA. If Lakers beat Denver and Utah, they are in good shape now.

  13. @ 5 – To say “No teams role players can possibly be shooting worse then the Lakers role players are” is just not true. I agree over the four game losing streak they have shot poorly, as has the rest of the team. But you must be forgetting that 6th man of the year candidate Lamar Odom is shooting 53.2% on the season. The second most utilized reserve, Shannon Brown is shooting an average 42.5% clip from the field, but also 34.8% from three and a team leading 91% from the free throw line. The next most used reserve, who unfortunately missed a couple dozen games with injury is Matt Barnes, shooting 47.5%. The Lakers have an above average bench. It’s easy to see who the band wagoners are as they jump off at every bump in the road. I like the way Darius can see the big picture, while being concerned, still understanding what this team is capable of doing this year.

  14. Renato Afonso April 9, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    @lil’ pau,

    Amen to that. Just dump the ball into Pau and Bynum, let them get their touches, score and make them aggressive. Kobe cannot, I repeat CANNOT, shoot more than LO, Pau and Bynum COMBINED!!! The triangle offense doesn’t work that way (hence the name triple post offense)…

    I don’t even care about HCA anymore, because HCA or not, if we don’t let our bigs do the damage we’re not getting far!

  15. Agreed with lil pau on all counts. Love Kobe, but his constant bitching at the refs really gets on my nerves at times, especially when he’d rather jump up and down and scream than get back and play defense.

  16. Also, with the teams like Warriors, Sacto, etc., the remaining Lakers games will be their “playoffs” and of course, they will try to put up a good fight as they prepare to go fishing. The Thunder/Spurs will pique the Lakers’ interest, but I wonder if Phil will pull out the starters when Popovich does.

  17. Shootinbricks April 9, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    17 turnovers means 17 lost opportunities – even taken at the Laker’s percentage from the floor last night of %39.5, thats 6 points (rounding down), add 4 points for just shooting our season average at the line instead of the 7 missed free throws and we’re right in this game despite the lackadaisical play. I still believe we can get this back on track. Having said that, there’s no time like the present

  18. You guys have the Thunder tomorrow, and then Spurs/Kings on a back to back beginning on Tuesday. The Thunder should play hard; they have a legitimate chance of passing the Mavericks (who themselves finish off with potentially tough games against HOU and NOLA) for the third seed.

    Then there’s the Spurs, whose effort level will be high given Chicago’s pace (Chicago has, in my opinion, three more wins coming up against the Dwightless Magic, the disfunctional Knicks, and the lowly Nets, but anything can happen).

    And lastly, you have the Kings. They will undoubtedly be motivated and inspired in their last game at ARCO Arena.

    If the Lakers refuse to close out the regular season, my dream/your nightmare playoff seeding just might come to fruition!

  19. 15.Snoopy2006 wrote on April 9, 2011 ” … Kobe … his constant bitching at the refs really gets on my nerves at times …”

    I doubt the refs like it much either, which may explain why he doesn’t necessarily get the benefit of the doubt with them.

  20. 18 – Not sure which match up(s)you are talking about, but this is one Lakers fan who isn’t too worried about who they draw in the early rounds. If they can’t get past SA the Thunder or whoever, then so be it. More time to rest up for next season, whenever or if it even happens.

  21. 20 – I basically want the Lakers as beat up and exhausted as possible before facing my Spurs in the West finals. Grizzlies, then OKC, then Spurs are the teams I want the Lakers to slog through.

  22. 21 – I guess we all have our dreams.

    Good luck with yours.

  23. “Dreams and dedication are a powerful combination.” – William Longgood

    Here, here, to the Lakers showing some dedication to destroy and conquer their remaining opponents, and close out the season as unbeatable winners.

  24. Kintaro,

    Might want to take it elsewhere.

  25. Huckstering another in the increasingly sporadic SfS musings, aided by links to more salient posts than my own.
    http://tinyurl.com/3pybwga

  26. @21. ” I basically want the Lakers as beat up and exhausted as possible before facing my Spurs in the West finals. Grizzlies, then OKC, then Spurs are the teams I want the Lakers to slog through.”

    How are you going to feel if OKC gets the 4th seed, the Lakers get the 2nd seed, MEM gets the 8th seed, and NOLA gets the 7th seed? :D

  27. If the Lakers fall down to 4th seed I’m not worried at all… What worries me is a matchup against OKC in the second round, which means that OKC would have to get past either the Mavs or the Lakers.

    About the first round, I don’t care who we draw. If we get knocked out in the 1st round it means that we weren’t getting all the way to the Finals anyway… But forget the pessimism and the possibilities for an (even) lower seeding, since we’re spoiled with having a dominant team: I just want the Lakers to play proper team basketball, specially mr. Mamba who’s making a ot of turnovers, not getting back on defense and chucking up shots with Pau and Drew looking for the ball in the low post.

    If he leads by example, the rest of the team will follow…

  28. am i really gonna have to root for boston today?

  29. 28. James,

    In no point in your lifetime you’ll have to root for them. Even if we get a harder path to the championship, rooting for the Celtics means that you’ll lose part of your Soul and will have nightmares for the remainder of your life…

  30. @ 29,

    I would agree if it meant rooting for Boston against, say, Milwaukee, or New Jersey. But against Miami–well, I think Chick Hearn will forgive us.

  31. I’ve never rooted ONCE for the Celtics, and Today’s no different!!!

  32. I love the Lakers more than I hate the Celtics… Go Boston!

  33. 26 – That scenario is the most likely playoff seeding and would be great for you guys. NOLA without David West is first round fodder. And frankly, something has just never been mentally “right” with the Mavericks. The only time I thought they were for real was when Avery Johnson was at the helm. Other than that, it’s the same story every year. So if the odds run true, I believe the Lakers will likely have a relatively “easy” path to the Finals.

    Each series isn’t played in a vaccuum so I don’t understand how some of you can say it doesn’t matter who you draw in the early rounds. There are many paths to the Finals, and they are not equal. Cumulative fatigue from games, flight schedules, etc. matters a whole lot more than coaches and players admit. They may be super athletes but they are not superhumans.

    24 – Consider it a sign of respect that I want the Lakers to take the roughest road imaginable before having to go up against my Spurs. When they get their act together, the Lakers are still the best team in the league so a difficult path makes dethroning the champs much more plausible.

  34. 34.Kintaro wrote on April 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm
    “Each series isn’t played in a vaccuum so I don’t understand how some of you can say it doesn’t matter who you draw in the early rounds.”

    Have you ever read “Sacred Hoops” ?

    If not, you might find understanding there.