Lakers Dig Too Deep a Hole, Thunder Too Good a Team to Come Back On

Darius Soriano —  March 5, 2013

Coming into tonight’s match up against the Thunder, it’s hard to expect the Lakers to record only the fifth win for a road team in Oklahoma City this year. The Thunder have been nearly unbeatable at home — and in two of the three games this season — have been much better than the Lakers on the floor.

As Phillip noted in the game preview, winning this game was always going to be a tough task. The Thunder are a fantastic team and beating them at home is difficult for any team, not just a Laker squad who’s finding their stride but still not playing at an incredibly high level. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the final score (122-105) favored OKC.

The Lakers lost this game early, coming out too flat without the needed level of energy and focus on execution they’d need to keep pace with the Thunder. Even though OKC wasn’t as sharp as they could have been — they missed several open jumpers — they still had an edge on a Laker team insistent on committing turnovers and not hitting their own open shots. The first quarter closed with the Lakers trailing by 9 and that was just the beginning of the hole they’d find themselves in early.

In the 2nd quarter, the lead would swell to 16 as OKC found their stride with their 2nd unit by pushing the pace and keeping the  Lakers off balance. Reggie Jackson and (gasp) Derek Fisher provided steady play from the back court and really played to their team’s strengths while the Lakers floundered defensively and grasped at straws offensively by playing too much isolation ball and walking that fine line of relying too much on their outside shooting.

The back drop to all this was the fact that in the 1st quarter Kobe hurt his elbow and was clearly affected by what’s being called a bruised ulnar nerve. Kobe battled through this ailment and still had a good scoring night, but it was obvious he was in pain and needed help to try and prop up the Laker offense in those first 24 minutes. The problem was, he simply didn’t get it. At least not from his starting mates.

In that first half, both Dwight Howard and Steve Nash went 1-7 from the floor, scoring a paltry 9 points on those 14 shots. Add in Ron’s single point on 0-2 shooting and three-fifths of the starting lineup simply couldn’t buy a basket. Combined with 11 first half turnovers, those missed shots lead to fast break chances that put undue pressure on the Laker defense that they couldn’t stand up to. And, after 24 minutes, the Thunder had 71 points and a lead that they’d never surrender.

So, even though the 2nd half was better in terms of pace, structure, and non-Kobe contributions, the hole the Lakers dug themselves via their early struggles were too much to overcome. Yes, Nash played a very good 2nd half (16 points, 6-8 shooting) and Ron really found his stride on offense (15 points, 5-9 shooting). And, yes, Kobe continued to battle through his elbow issues to stay assertive and hit some much needed shots. The push they made was admirable and the fact they got as close as 5 points was a huge boost for the entire team.

But it wasn’t enough tonight. Not against one of the very best teams in the league on their home court. Not when they played so poorly early on. Winning this game would have been the ultimate luxury and the Lakers almost stole it (or at least put themselves in position where it seemed possible). But the loss only reinforces the fact that the games they should win that remain on their schedule really are necessities. On that note, it’s on to the next one.

Some notes:

  • In a season full of ups and downs, this was one of the low points for Dwight. His 1-7 stat line for the first half ended up being his final line of the night, with only 2 FT’s taken in the 2nd half augmenting his offensive output for the game. And while he had 16 rebounds for the game, the 2nd half also saw him only grab 7 of those (and not a single one on the offensive side of the ball) — many of those of the flatfooted variety. Dwight also didn’t have much impact defensively, often reaching (and fouling) on drives and not showing his recent spring to challenge shots around the basket. In the 2nd quarter he looked to bang his shoulder again and maybe that was the cause of his struggles. But, overall, the Lakers needed more from him tonight — especially on offense — but didn’t get it.
  • Earl Clark ended the night with solid numbers but his first half turnovers were problematic. He had 5 of the Lakers 11 miscues and also took a couple of ill-advised shots. He did settle down as the game went on, but Coach D’Antoni still started Antawn Jamison in favor of Clark in the 2nd half. This move didn’t seem to affect Clark in the 2nd half, but we’ll see is this is a strategy that D’Antoni uses moving forward.
  • Russel Westbrook was fantastic in scoring 37 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and handing out 5 assists. His work on the offensive glass was particularly impressive, grabbing 4 on the Lakers end of the floor. His ball handling also stood out, using a fantastic hesitation dribble to get himself into the lane against Kobe on multiple occasions. The way he moved looked like he had a strobe light on him, with herky-jerky movements allowing him to freeze his man and free him up as he drove. He really is a special talent.
  • Durant was also very good even though he had an off (for him) shooting night. What was clear, though, is that the Lakers really don’t have a good option to put on KD as he left Ron and Clark in his wake with slick ball handling all to often. And while several of those shots he created off the dribble didn’t fall, he still shook free to attempt them and down the line, if the Lakers see them again, they probably won’t be as lucky.
  • After the game both Kobe and Nash commented that the team really missed Gasol in this game and it’s easy to understand why they’d say so. Pau is a fantastic release valve on offense and someone who can create shots for himself and others from multiple spots on the floor. When OKC pressured the ball in the P&R or when the wings had to go to isolations, Pau could have really aided their offensive flow as another option. Not to mention with Dwight playing so poorly on offense, Pau could have anchored the pivot and been a more reliable option on that end of the floor.

Overall, I thought the Lakers fought hard to come back and showed spirit when climbing back from the hole they dug. It’s that fight that will aid them in the coming weeks when they push to try and make the post season. But the Thunder are too good a team to spot so many points and the Lakers were reminded of that fact again. On to New Orleans on Wednesday.

Darius Soriano

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21 responses to Lakers Dig Too Deep a Hole, Thunder Too Good a Team to Come Back On

  1. I was at work, so I didnt really get to watch the game as much as I’d have liked, but whenever we play OkC all I can think is someone PLEASE put Russell on his backside. Give a couple hard fouls and make him think about it. ESPECIALLY if we’re getting no calls and they’re getting whistles for getting tickled. Russ is a headcase. Knock him down and he’ll start pressing… or crying.

  2. Nice recap, indeed too big a lead to cut esp on road.

    I used to complain about Dwight but the fact that Bynum hasn’t even played one game for Philly would always shut me up. We can complain all we want but at the end of the day, the FO made an incredible trade. Trading late rounders draft picks (projected) for Steve Nash?! Are you kidding me and not to mention we also receive a guy who hustle, rebound, score decent and pretty much filled in Hill’s place in Earl Clark.

    Right now, the Lakers are a very one dimensional team that is either screen-rolling or Kobe-iso. There is no identity, they play horrible team defence at times and most importantly, are undermanned without key players like Gasol and Hill. They also turns the ball a lot and are an abysmal transition team, be it O or D. Their offence also always struggle when the 4th quarter kicks in and sometimes victory or loss could simply be down to whether the refs want to call a foul on Kobe. The crushing pressure of winning every single game is certainly not helping the issue either.

    Going against an elite team like OKC, the Lakers are bound to be exposed of such deficiencies if they are always playing exactly the same way 48 minutes as they have been scouted. A good coach would come in and make in-game adjustments to lessen the exploit but clearly, D Antoni hasn’t been doing it and we cannot always talk about him lacking a training camp time or etc as excuses. Even if we made the playoffs, it will be against this OKC team or the Spurs.

    Currently, we can only hope for Gasol to return and that the team “gel” more to play better team defence and when its crunchtime (against the better teams), Kobe can have someone other than the occasional Nash to rely on.

  3. I haven’t heard a Gasol update recently. At this point whether or not the Lakers make the playoffs is irrelevant I just want to see some progress. Mainly from Dwight. I just haven’t seen much improvement form him physically this season and like the Laker’s front office I want to before they make their decision to re-sign him. Some more cohesion with Nash, Kobe and co would be nice too. And of course I’d really like to see Pau Gasol come back and mesh well with Dwight (and prove D’Antoni wrong).
    More thoughts from me here:
    http://4hoopsheads.com/articles/thunder-drop-the-lakers-below-500-can-dwight-howard-save-them–2

  4. Hi Andrew,

    It is becoming increasingly clear that Dwight just isn’t getting anywhere close to his old self this season, even lately, when he has played well, we see him finishing more on rolling hooks and even Jamison-like leaners, and not on thundering in your face dunks.

    As long as the ball goes through the hoop I don’t care how. But it is the easiest measuring stick for where he is physically, which determines exactly how much of a difference maker he can be on defense.

    I have never been blown away by Howard as a “defensive player of the year”. He won those on his other-worldly physique, but I never experienced him as a superiour defensive general alla KG or Big Ben… so if the hops are gone, he will have to learn and change a great deal to become All Defensive Team again.

    This breakdown of his defense at Hoopchalk.com is rather telling: http://hoopchalk.com/2013/01/18/a-thorough-examination-of-dwight-howards-defense-against-the-heat/

  5. Here is the conclusion of the article:

    “Howard’s ability to blow up pick-and-rolls from above the free throw line all the way to the rim is one of his major selling points as a defender. Though he’s less physically able this year, having him sink back every single time seems to defeat the purpose of having such an athletic, pick-and-roll swallowing big. Nevertheless, that was the strategy and he was usually initially in the right spot. Once there though, things became much murkier.”

    I remember watching a Jeff van Gundy DVD on pick and rolls and how to defend them, and he was actually strongly advocating the “soft” coverage that Dwight seems to be instructed to play. JFG then goes on explaining the details of the rotations that follow.

    The standard rotation would be the defender of the ballhandler recovering to his man, which the big has contained at the edge of the paint for a late double, a weak side defender should sink in and bump the role man towards this double to clutter up the spacing and the passing angles, and then quickly recover to his man.

    But what seems to happen to the Lakers is that Howard being neither really long for a big, nor really athletic, just gets blown by more often than not, and secondly, the weak side rotations of bumping and recovering often fall on Meeks, Jamison and Kobe… and they all seem to either not get it or not bother.

    Ideally Howard should be a blitzing package of size and speed, but since he is more of a plotting Yao/Duncan kind of big these days, he is playing soft on PNRs. But this coverage is mainly successful when you have a 7-footer in the paint (Pacers play this with Hibbert filling the paint, forcing either long jumpers or finishes over his +7 feet frame).

    For a defensive ancor Dwight just isn’t up to snuff this year, and it really has doomed the Lakers ability to settle on their rotations. If Dwight gets blown by on a soft coverage, the whole point of the scheme is kind of lost. Secondly, Nash has so little athletic ability that even if he goes over screens, he cannot bother a shooter that has all that real estate given to him by Dwight hanging back in the paint.

  6. Warren Wee Lim March 6, 2013 at 2:20 am

    I think the Lakers money is placed on Dwight’s health and would re-sign him regardless.

    As for the recap, yeah. That Nash 3-ptr to cut the lead to 5 then another one that missed would have made the game interesting. Overall, the Lakers were too tired and too banged up to roll with the Thunder late. They dug a hole and almost managed to pull an upset.

    At the end of the day, your record tells you who you are.

    PS. Fish and Jenkins made big baskets which killed us.

  7. Spot on Darius, thanks for the excelent recap as always.

  8. That 2 min stretch in the 4th, starting at around the 5:30 point, is where we lost our opportunity to possibly steal this game in my opinion. During that period, down 6, we continued to get the necessary defensive stops, but couldn’t convert on the offensive end. Ron missed a wide open 3, Kobe missed a jumper, another wide open 3 was missed, this time by Nash and then Ron, inexplicably, goes on a 1 against 3 fast break and, as expected, misses the layup. Thunder corral the rebound, come downcourt, rotate the ball to the corner to Ibaka, who wets a wide open 3. 114-105. Game Over.

    Like several others, I wasn’t expecting a win, but all in all, it was a valiant effort. Particularly from Kobe. Nash showed up in the 2nd half, but Dwight might as well had been sitting next to me, in front of my TV, with that performance he displayed. And his rebounding tally is my reasoning for being an ‘Eye Test’ guy, as opposed to a ‘Stats’ guy.

    The loss makes tonight’s game against the Pelicans all the more crucial. We might be low on energy, but this is a contest that we definitely can not afford to lose.

  9. I mentioned this in the comments yesterday, but please watch your language in the comments. There are plenty of ways to speak your mind without using foul language, even if it’s as simple as using a word like “butt” instead of the alternative. I’ve let things slide for sometime, but I’m tired of it. Read the commenting guidelines if you have questions about how this board operates.

    http://www.forumblueandgold.com/commenting-guidelines/

  10. It’s going to be tough road ahead. The hiring of D’Antonio really has put damp on the Laker’s chance to realize their full potential this season. His insistence on the team adopting his “system” while ignoring the team’s personnel has hindered the “gelling” process between the players. Players have been forced to play in an uncomfortable zone. They are forced to ignore their instincts while trying to fit into his system. We see their chaotic positioning both offensively and defensively in every game, especially when they face teams who likes to play up tempo games. They get lost between trying to revert back to the old habit of playing D’Anotio’s system and trying to maintain their composer slowing the game down. I think this is the reason they had a slow start last night.

  11. I agree with Tra, we gotta get a win tonight -
    I was hoping Howard would bounce back in the 2nd half, much as Nash and MWP did (& yes, except for the `what-the-f***-is-he-doing?!!´ play like the 1 on 3 Peace graced us with) but that didn´t happen…
    Hopefully tonight DH will come out with something to prove – hoping hoping, sigh

  12. I didn’t watch the game but we went scoreless in the last 6 minutes while the Thunder closed the game on a 12-0 run.

    For those who did see the implosion, what happened?

  13. Simonoid: Missed open shots, bad turnovers and became one dimensional. Just like all the games vs elite teams Lakers falter around the 6 min mark.

    Last 15 games Lakers shooting 46% 102.6 pts. Opponents 46% 108.2 pts. I’d be willing to bet D’Antoni’s tenure with Suns and Knicks show similar numbers.

  14. jeanie buss needs to run the show!

  15. darius: waited till this am before i shouted out djanjo as a result of last night’s laker loss in the thunderdome. calls for a few aw shucks and geez whitakers. land sakes alive when john wooden was really upset and all his players knew it. need a few championships under one’s belt before people/players would actually take to heart when one’s words are taken seriously.

    seems the thunder were toying with the lakers; in particular that westbrook character from the streets of westwood just a few years ago. can stop and go on a dime, kind of floats in the air and keeps his wits about him and the amazing part is we’re seeing him grow defensively before out very eyes. wait, he plays for the thunder. nevermind.

    agree with all who are saying we need this bounce back game tonight versus the pelicans (seriously?). should try playing without kobe and see how we do….seriously. would be interesting to see who steps up and would give him two days rest before toronto friday and another day’s rest saturday for a prime time game vs chicago on sunday.

    a win tonight will help to guarantee that run to the playoffs.

    Go Lakers

  16. Last night for some reason angered me so much, outside of Kobe and Nash we don’t have a winning/championship moxy. We don’t execute, don’t pay attention to detail. This comes down to coaching, we don’t have a coach with a championship mind set. No adjustments, no schemes, no game plan. MDA is too timid and too nice, he should’ve gotten ejected last night with some of calls and non calls in the 4th.

    We just are not a smart and disciplined team, that falls back on MDA. Steve Nash stepped up the second half and was aggressive, I will give him a pass especially because 39. But, Howard on the other hand not so much. I can’t recall a game this year against an elite team where he stepped up. I mean come on man, Ibaka not only punked him but got in his head. If he wanted to ball bad enough he should’ve demanded it, quit being so nice. Get mad for a change. Where is his competitive spirit??? With Kobe limited, this game was begging for him to step it up.
    I hear he is seeking The Dream this summer he might want to contact Kareem as well. Come back with consistent back to the basket skill.
    We kept playing which was good, but OKC just toyed with us again.

  17. Kevin – I see. By one-dimensional do you mean isolation sets? Did they try a lot of PnRs?

  18. Simonoid: Nash got a few PnR but mostly Kobe centric. A couple drive and kicks, above the 3pt line PnR, screens to get him in iso’s. After Dwight’s turnover to start the 4th he didn’t get the ball again. I’m all for Kobe willing Lakers to victory but a well designed play beats anything one player can do.

  19. Dwight was run into by Durant for his sixth foul and at least two of the other fouls he was called for were OKC flops. It’s hard to be aggressive under those circumstances. MD’A has got to find some way to get Dwight more involved. If you’ve got a cannon, you’ve got to shoot it.

    That being said, Kobe was playing with one arm and wasn’t getting any love from the refs either. Yet, he was able to score 30. Real pros find a way to persevere and contribute. Dwight has to do better when his team really needs him.

    OKC is quickly turning into a very dirty team. Saw Thabo take a few unnecessary swipes at Kobe’s arm last night after it was apparent that Kobe’s arm was injured. Lost all respect for Thabo. Ibaka the crotch blocker jumps over backs for a lot of his O-boards. Perkins is an offensive lineman disguised as a basketball player. And Fish has turned into a coattail riding ring seeker.

    This Lakers’ season has been dismantled by injury from start to the present. We saw good effort last night , but the shortcoming due to injury undid that effort.

  20. Those of us who like to judge Dwight so harshly should know that he re-injured the shoulder in the 1st quarter in a collision with MWP. At least he tried to play through. The front office has done nothing to bolster the big man rotation since the losses of Hill and Gasol. Our Lakers are an extremely small team at present. I try to remember that when evaluating their performances.

  21. First off, is Kobe what happens when you keep taking the green and blue pills from the the Bourne Legacy? If he managed to get one of those doctors to inject the virus, would Kobe get the virus sick instead? Whatever happens for the rest of the season, when it ends for the Lakers, the biggest loss will be not getting to watch Kobe go Mamba on all things before him. Kobe sons Father Time.

    All that said, we cannot reasonably expect Howard to be like Kobe. Shaq didn’t play through pain like Kobe does. I’ve watched this game for 30 years and I can think of no player who has. I would hate for Kobe to ruin Howard for fans of this team. Let the man recover before deciding that D’Antoni or Howard or anyone on this team is a problem. Enjoy the Kobe show.

    Just riffing off the passages The Dane quoted. If Dwight can’t blow through P&Rs yet, and needs to play a more traditional defensive style, does it now then make some sense for Pau to be the anchor if his feet hold up? Part of the success Spain had over the summer must have something to do with the fact that Marc is such a phenomenal defensive player. I didn’t get to see the games but I wonder how Spain schemed their D. We have two starting quality centers each playing an almost opposite style of basketball for their position. Their similarity is that both are best utilized in the low post. Even if Dwight isn’t blowing past people like he does when healthy, he is still more explosive then Pau. What if Pau anchors the D and Howard uses his athleticism add pressure. It’ll also make it harder for PGs to switch Pau onto them and bring him out for the blow by.

    No doubt there are aspects to this game that I haven’t learned. I am only now spending time watching plays in a more peripheral/holistic manner and recognizing the defensive mistakes that have happened maybe 3-4 moves before the play has made another individual look bad. So, I may be missing something as to why the team does not want to anchor the D to Pau. Anyone have thoughts on this?