The Lakers couldn’t find their groove for the 2nd straight night and found themselves in a hole that was just a bit too deep to climb out of, falling to the Kings 100-91 to bring their record to 0-2 on the season. The loss is certainly frustrating, as the Lakers simply couldn’t string together effective offensive or defensive possessions until the 2nd half. When they finally did start to make their push, the Kings were still able to hit enough shots to keep the Lakers at arm’s length. By the time the Kings finally started to show some cracks on both ends – due to ramped up defensive effort by every Laker and some excellent passing on the other end – the clock became L.A.’s biggest enemy and they simply didn’t have enough to get over the hump.
Below are some free flowing observations, bullet style, on what transpired in this one:
- Kobe’s final line of 29 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds certainly looks good and he played a pretty good floor game most of the night. He worked well off the ball, kept his turnover count low (2 on the night), and generally played within the flow all evening. He did take 24 shots, though, and missed all 4 of his three pointers on the night. All in all, I thought Kobe played well but he did go isolation a bit more than I would have liked (especially late in the game), especially considering how well he was moving off the ball early in the contest and how that movement was occupying defenders off the ball in a manner that was freeing up his teammates for open looks.
- Kobe’s main partner in crime, Pau Gasol, continues to be up and down. His numbers – 15 points on 7-12 shooting and 9 rebounds (4 offensive) – were good, but not up to the standard he’s set during his tenure with the team. He only shot 2 FTs on the night and his 5 defensive rebounds show his lack of activity in really going to the glass on that end most of the night. He did have some beautiful plays tonight – a fantastic right to left drive where he up faked, stepped through, and finger rolled in a basket in traffic comes to mind immediately – but overall he needs to do more with Bynum out and tonight, whether the analysis is fair or not, he didn’t.
- The Laker that did raise his game tonight was MWP. The former Artest acted out Mike Brown’s vision of his role to perfection, doing loads of damage in the post against a Kings’ 2nd unit with little bulk on the wing. On several possessions, MWP simply bullied his man on the block by backing him down and then using leverage to spin off his man or power through him to get a shot right at the rim. He also moved well off the ball to make catches moving to the rim, where he was able to finish more easily. He finished the night with 19 points on 14 shots and carried the Lakers’ O for stretches in both halves. If he can be even half this effective on most nights, he’ll really help the team this year in this role.
- Where the Lakers continue to struggle is on defense. The Kings guards and wings were able to break down their men off the dribble much too easily for most of the night, and it led to the type of defensive breakdowns that this team simply can’t afford. When the D collapsed to help on penetration, the ball would be kicked to the perimeter for open jumpers. When the help was late, shots at the rim were the easy result. If those shots were missed, the scrambling Lakers wouldn’t always be in position to secure the rebound and the Kings were able to reset and take another stab at the D. And the biggest culprit on D continues to be foot speed. The Kings had 19 fast break points and many of them came because they simply outran a slow group of Lakers that simply couldn’t change ends as well as the home team. This is especially obvious with L.A.’s big men, as neither Murphy nor Gasol are changing ends well. The key to transition defense will always be how quickly the big men can get back to wall off the paint and help the perimeter players better cover the wing when the ball is coming at them. The Lakers aren’t doing this well and it’s really hurting their effectiveness on that end.
- The Lakers couldn’t buy a three pointer tonight. They only hit one(!) of their sixteen(!!) attempts from distance and their inability to hit anything from the outside completely undermined their offense as the floor got shrunk, driving lanes disappeared, and post chances got disrupted by dig downs. Meanwhile, the Kings hit half of their 18 attempts from deep, which was pretty much the difference in the game when you consider the Lakers won the battle of the boards, had more assists, and fewer turnovers. (As an aside, if you take away the Lakers 3 point attempts, they made exactly half of their FGs and 16 of their 19 FTs too. Sigh.)
- This was a game where the Lakers’ roster imbalance really came back to bite them, as all three of their main SFs played well (Ebanks and Barnes both, in limited attempts, shot 50% and were active on the boards) while Goudelock – the only natural SG on the roster besides Kobe – played poorly (0-4 FGs for 0 points, with 0 rebounds, and only 1 assist). This meant that Kobe had to play heavy minutes (38 in all) and neither Barnes nor Ebanks got enough run because MWP was playing so well. (Also of note here, Darius Morris was inactive tonight, but both Blake and Fisher had rough outings to the point that having the rook active could have provided a spark. Unfortunately, both Kapono and Walton were active and that meant LA had a whopping 5 natural SF’s active but are only carrying 2 natural SGs and didn’t have their 3rd PG active. Again, roster imbalance is a proving to be a real issue).
Overall, this loss is difficult to swallow simply because the Kings – as young and as talented as they are – did hit some shots that on a typical night you’d think would not fall, and the Lakers couldn’t buy a basket from deep that could have made a world of difference in helping with spacing and keeping Sacto’s D honest. Plus, Kobe and Pau both played heavy minutes and with another game tomorrow night, weary legs by the key contributors could be an issue. Not to mention, 0-2 isn’t ideal either. However, it’s still hard to make any real judgments on this team without Bynum in the mix as he’s a key player who will have a domino effect on the rest of the roster through changed rotations and personnel groupings. It’d still be nice to get a win or two before he’s back, though.