With a chance to turn their .500 record into a winning one, the Lakers lost. Again. I say again because this is familiar. The last time the Lakers had a winning record on the season, they were 6-5. The date was November 20th and the Lakers had just defeated the Nets. Since then the Lakers have five chances to turn a .500 record into a winning one and have lost. This is, simply put, frustrating beyond belief.
The reasons for the Lakers loss to the Sixers are also simply put. Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner both went off for Philly. They combined to score 48 points on 33 shots, consistently killing their defenders in isolation to get makable shots. Seemingly every time down the floor, Holiday or Turner dribbled around on the wing, made a series of relatively simple moves to get closer to the basket, and then took a shot that more often than not went in. To call this attack elementary would be kind as it was the kind of thing you see on a playground court every day. Yes, there were some spectacular finishes mixed in, but for the most part both players just continued to get to their spots on the floor and make shots.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the floor, the Lakers’ couldn’t find any reliable offense from anyone but Kobe and Steve Nash (who both had some of their own issues as well). Pau Gasol went 2-12 from the field, missing shots from close and far away with equal ability. Pau simply couldn’t find a rhythm on offense (outside of making some good passes) and his inability to make his outside shot seemed to filter into the rest of his game where he found himself drifting a lot, not crashing the offensive glass often enough, not being present enough close to the rim where he could make a difference.
To make matters worse, Dwight Howard went 1-7 from the floor while missing countless point blank shots that would be automatic makes on most other nights. Little lefty hooks rolled off the rim. Attempts from the right side of the paint clanged off the backboard and ricocheted harmlessly away. On other shots he was either stripped on the way up or blocked at the peak of his release. Just a bad, bad night for Dwight.
Without speculating too much, it really looked like Dwight was not healthy in this game which only lends further credence to the idea that his recovery is not consistent in any way. After three days off you’d think he’d be as fluid (or more) than what he showed against the Blazers. Instead, he was stiff and plodding in his movement while lacking lift on both his shot attempts and in grabbing rebounds. On other plays, he simply stood around and watched as the action buzzed around him reaching for the ball and/or fouling in an attempt to secure it cleanly. This isn’t to make an excuse for Dwight. But it’s difficult to convince me that JJ Hickson and Lamarcus Aldridge pose that different a challenge than Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen, yet look at his numbers in comparison between his last two games and you’ll see the stat lines of two different players.
The Lakers may have been able to overcome Dwight and Pau struggling if they’d been able to hit some of the open shots made available to them, but that wasn’t the case either. The team shot 3-22 from behind the arc, many coming on the sort of looks they take and make every other night. Two of their makes came late in the game (one by Ron, one by Kobe) when they made one last push to try and close the gap, but that was too little too late. Free throws also hurt the Lakers as they only hit 22 of 33 from the line. Those 11 misses may not seem like much, but on a night when they only lost by 4 and needed every point they could get due to their other struggles, those misses loom large.
In the end, this game was sort of a microcosm of the Lakers’ season. Their bigs had some moments but didn’t play well enough (likely do to health and effectiveness within the offense), Kobe looked very good for most of the game but forced some shots when a different approach likely would have been better, and the team’s defense was poor enough that key performances from the other team’s wings were enough to bring a loss. Again, this game was all too familiar for a team that can’t seem to get over the hump and be the squad we all hoped they’d be before the season started.