Well, the first loss of the D’Antoni era has come and it wasn’t pretty. The second night a back to back brought fatigue and all the ills that come with it, resulting in a 113-97 defeat at the hands of the Kings.
The only Laker that really played well — at least for any extended period — in this game was Kobe Bryant, who continued his terrorizing of the league with another efficient night that saw him poor in 38 points on 20 shots with 3 assists and 3 rebounds tacked on. Particularly impressive was Kobe’s barrage of three point field goals that brought the Lakers back from the abyss in the 3rd quarter when the game was slipping away. The only real bad part of Kobe’s night was the return of his ball handling issues and some spotty decisions when trying to hit his teammates that led to 7 turnovers. Most of his miscues were ones of aggression, but they were still too many.
Less consistent with their good play, but still showing some flashes of positive production were Ron and Jodie Meeks. Ron only went 4-10 from the field, but did hit 2 of his 5 three point attempts and was active on the glass and in his defensive work — especially off the ball. Meeks showed some life by hitting some big shots in the 4th quarter that kept the Lakers on life support (including a couple of long jumpers that reminded fans why he was signed). However, in the closing minutes, his shot betrayed him again though I can’t really speak too harshly about that. As one of the only Lakers who showed any semblance of offense all night, he did more good than bad. Which, considering his start to this season, is a step in the right direction.
As for the rest of the team, they simply didn’t have their legs and did not put forth any sort of sustained effort on either side of the ball. Particularly poor play came from Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard who both surrendered position to their men on both sides of the ball for most of the evening. This ceding of territory created poor spacing on offense and limited their ability to get close enough to the basket where they could get the types of easy baskets that really make the offense flow. Howard spent most of his time trying to create off the dribble from 12 feet and out and mostly ended up passing off the dribble to a perimeter player who moved into open space as the Kings collapsed the paint. Pau mostly floated around the elbow area, taking jumpers when he was open but mostly serving as a facilitator of the offense by making quick passes to open teammates. Both players needed to be more aggressive and engaged tonight.
Defensively, the same tired legs led to flatfooted defense by nearly every Laker and once the Kings started to find their rhythm and understood they’d get open shots, their confidence grew. That resulted in shots being taken without hesitation which led to several jumpers getting knocked down against late closeouts. Inside, the Lakers bigs often resembled rooted trees as they were out-jumped for rebounds and beat off the dribble consistently by the likes of Jason Thompson and Chuck Hayes. Worse were their attempts at helping on dribble penetration where they seemed to be late most of the night. And with the initial help so poor, helping the helper was basically out of the question.
In the end, the Lakers were pretty much within shouting distance of the Kings most of the night and if they’d just gotten a key stop or had a shot or two more fall when the momentum was building, they might have escaped with a win. But even a W wouldn’t have covered up that this team simply played poorly tonight nor the fact that they need to find ways to conjure the energy to play better when they’re not at their best physically. Some players found a way to push through, but too many did not.