Wow. This one, really does hurt.
Much like the Lakers did against the Hornets yesterday, they built up a nice 4th quarter lead that looked to be enough to secure the win. And just like against the Hornets, the Lakers allowed their opponent to make a furious comeback as the offense stalled and defense allowed too many baskets. But unlike the the Hornets game, the Lakers — who lost Dwight Howard to another issue with his strained shoulder right in the middle of the Suns’ run — allowed the Suns to not only come all the way back, but to also take the lead and ultimately win the game 92-86.
Not exactly the way you way you want to start a 7 game road trip.
The game started with an energy that led to a lot of uneven play. The crowd seemed ready to erupt at any big play by either side, but neither team gave their fans much to cheer about. The Lakers started the game sloppily, committing 9 turnovers in the first period (remember that number) by mostly playing careless in the P&R trying to force passes. The Suns were sharper in terms of their execution, but weren’t accurate shooting the ball and thus they couldn’t really take advantage of a Laker team that hadn’t yet found their stride.
The 2nd quarter brought less sloppy play, but just as few made baskets. Both sides started to settle down, but with each team eased into their respective game plans, the defenses seemed ready to rotated and contest shots and neither side could establish the type of rhythm that would allow them to create any separation. The Lakers were starting to show that they were the better team as their bench unit started to produce some points, but by the time the half came to a close the game was all knotted up at 41.
As the game went on, however, the Lakers started to show their superiority. Their defense stayed locked in and did a pretty good job of contesting shots in the half court. Players were rotating to shooters and either contesting shots or making that player make another pass where another Laker was there to rotate. When shots were missed, the Lakers cleaned their glass and took the ball the other way. Once on offense, they did well to move the ball onto the open man, whoever it may be. When that Laker would make the catch he was quick to either put himself in scoring position or find a teammate that was. For the quarter the Lakers hit 13 of their 20 shots and turned a tie game into a 10 point cushion to start the 4th. Kobe, as in previous games had his fingerprints all over L.A.’s offense that quarter in handing out 4 assists, but it was Ron, Jamison, and Pau’s shot making (those three made 8 of their 10 shots in the period) that were key to turning Kobe’s passes into assists.
The start of the 4th period brought another quick run by the Lakers to push their lead up to 13, but there were also some troubling signs that were brewing. The Lakers started to turn the ball over more on offense, facing a Sun D that looked a bit more engaged. By the time the starters came back in, the Lakers still held a comfortable cushion but the game was already changing with the Suns D starting show a strong side zone look to take away Kobe’s post ups. And with the Lakers showing little player movement, the ball ended up sticking on one side of the floor to the point that when the Lakers did try to pass it was either a turnover or an action that led to a forced shot.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the floor, the Lakers had issues containing the Suns offense. More specifically, they had issues containing Michael Beasley. Beasley had his jumper going all night and, in the 4th quarter, used both the J and some nifty drives off the threat of it to sink the Lakers. Beasley scored 10 points (5-6 shooting) in the final frame and simply outclassed Clark and Ron whenever he touched the ball. And while some of the shots he hit weren’t ones that you’d think would fall traditionally, and it certainly didn’t help to not have Howard help protect the rim, it really didn’t matter since he had it going so well.
So with the Lakers defense faltering and their offense sputtering, the Lakers turned to Kobe but he wasn’t enough down the stretch. He continued to find ways to make good passes, but the extra pass often led to Ron and he couldn’t hit the same shots he’d hit just a quarter before. When Kobe tried to take matters into his own hands by looking for his own offense, it almost looked foreign as he’d been mostly turning down his own shot all night in favor making the right read. He had a few good looks (including a lefty lay in attempt that would have tied the game in the final 30 seconds) but that slid off the rim as Kobe just winced. Game over.
There’s little to say about a loss like this besides it’s one that really hurts the Lakers. Not because it invalidates the style they’ve been playing or even necessarily because of the comeback nature. But mostly because the Suns were 15-30 coming into the game and with Dwight’s shoulder potentially an issue and the team really wanting to start the road trip off right, they found a way to lose a game they had a great chance of winning. These are the games you can’t give away if you want to climb the standings. But really, this is what this season has been like for the Lakers. One step forward, two back. They just can’t gain any traction. They’ll get another shot on Friday against the T’Wolves.