It’s this type of up and down play that has become the symbol of the early season Lakers. Some nights they look fantastic on both sides of the ball. Their offense flows, the defense is dialed in, and the results are what you’d expect from a team with this much talent (even without Nash). Other nights, nothing seems to work and the team looks like it’s still searching for how it wants to play under it’s third coach in four weeks to start the season.
The above was from the game preview and while I don’t claim to be Nostradamus, maybe I should have played the lottery tonight too.
The Lakers came off one of their best games of the season against the Mavs and played terribly on offense and only showed sporadic competence on defense in losing to the Pacers 79-77. What transpired was an ugly game where the only redeeming quality was the fact that the Lakers fought hard enough to keep the game close as the Pacers — who possess the league’s 28th rated offense — played to form (or, below it actually) by missing a ton of looks themselves.
Rather than go over the gory details of a night that saw the Lakers miss 4 consecutive free throws when they trailed by a single point with under a minute to go (part of their 23-43 night from the foul line) or their 19 turnovers (10 of which were committed by Kobe Bryant which earned him a dubious triple double), I’ll simply fast forward to the final two possessions as they were indicative of the game that was.
First is the amazing shot that Kobe hit to tie the game at 77 with only 24 seconds left in contest:
With the Lakers down by three, Kobe ran the same high pick and roll he’d run all night, drove to his right hand and hit an unbelievable shot. For better or for worse, this was the Kobe we saw tonight. Riddled with the flu, Kobe willed his way to 40 points taking a variety of tough shots and by getting to the foul line. Kobe mostly played a solo game tonight as his teammates either couldn’t hit shots or didn’t get the ball in position where they could do anything meaningful, and quickly handed the ball back to #24 so he could create a shot. The result was a lot of stagnant offensive sets and gummed up offense that the Pacers’ loaded up defense feasted on. This was not a pretty showing and the point total and field goal percentage reflect that.
The Pacers weren’t much better on offense all night (in a lot of ways, they were actually worse) but on their final play of the game, they got a good look at the basket:
As the clock wound down, Hill held the ball patiently and waited until the final seconds to call for David West to come set a pick. This action had been their best play all night as it had repeatedly put Pau in a position where he had to hedge against a speedy guard and then try to recover to a great mid-range shooter in West. Like most of the times this play was run at him, Pau couldn’t make the play in front of him and let Hill get the corner. Dwight was an instant too late in his help and Hill’s shot floated in high off the glass. Game over.
The Lakers showed a lot of grit but didn’t show enough refinement to get the win. They still clearly miss Steve Nash as Kobe continues to carry the load as the primary ball handler. He’s scoring and passing well but the ball handling mistakes of recent years have cropped up again and his turnovers are skyrocketing as a result. Nash alleviates this issue as it would likely be him creating a lot of shots for this team throughout the course of the game.
Nash also would provide some much needed shooting. There will be nights where Ron and Jamison struggle to hit their jumpers like tonight. We’ll just have to live with those games as they’ll also have their fair share of nights where their jumpers are falling. But Darius Morris is not a shooter and Chris Duhon (while hitting his J early this year) does not garner the respect from the defense to dissuade defenses from collapsing the paint and either double teaming the Lakers’ bigs or crowding driving and passing lanes that disrupt the Lakers’ offensive flow. Nash helps these things. At least in theory he does.
As it stands now, the Lakers are simply an incomplete team that will look good some nights, average on others, and terrible on nights like this one. Even when Nash comes back this team will have its ups and downs with another adjustment period ahead but they’ll be a lot closer to being a great team than they are right now. This team, in this system, without another ball handler is simply too inconsistent to get a good handle on offensively. And while he defense is coming around, it’s not there yet.
So, we wait. We wait for the starting PG to get healthy. We wait for D’Antoni to get a handle on his rotations. We wait for Pau’s knees to feel better. In the meantime, this team will win some and lose some. We just won’t know what they are until later. So we wait. Even though waiting is no fun.