After losing their first five games of the season and winning their next, the Lakers have again lost four straight games. This lands them with a 1-9 record, last in the West and only one win better than the awful 76ers. While pundits thought things could be this bad, to actually see the team struggle the way that they have has been is a punch to the gut. The losing — and how they’re going about it — is clearly starting to affect the players too.
After Sunday’s drubbing at the hands of the Warriors — a game that saw Kobe take a lot of shots en route to a 44 point night — both Carlos Booze and Jeremy Lin were vocal in the need for the team to strike the right balance offensively. Kobe Byrant commented on his shooting too, noting that he’d prefer not to shoot this much but acknowledging, in his own way, that he will fill the vacuum if that’s what it takes. Byron Scott also spoke on the matter, commenting that the team can function this way, but he is not sure if the team can function well.
Of all the comments, I think Scott’s are the most important. While the players can (and should) grumble if they think things should change (while also doing better to act out those changes on the floor), it’s the head coach who needs to be the one to set the tone on how he thinks the team should play. In his latest column, Kevin Ding writes that Scott needs to be better in setting that tone, especially in relation to Kobe. An excerpt:
There is a fundamental problem with the template.
You want to build the team around Bryant’s free rein on offense while he is encouraged to “rest”—Scott’s own word—on defense, yet every other guy is being held to fantastic standards that must be met for the team to overachieve?
How is anyone besides Kobe ever going to think that’s cool? Resentment is bound to build, especially when Bryant is so unabashed in competitive zeal that he described his view on his teammates’ passivity Sunday night thus: “Can’t just sit back and watch crime happen.”
It might work every once in a while, as Bryant’s shooting and scoring against single coverage has inspired his teams to compete harder and rally in games of the past—though certainly not Sunday night.
Boozer and Lin, two guys who believe deeply in Kobe, were left grumbling late Sunday night about the difficulty of finding offensive rhythm next to him.
It most definitely isn’t easy to learn to play with him. As such, Scott must make that process easier, not harder.
With all the perks that come with coaching the Lakers and Kobe Bryant, what Scott must manage now is clearly one of the hard aspects. Getting all the players on the same page and effectively building a cohesiveness from a roster that isn’t familiar with each other nor familiar with how Kobe responds in any given moment is difficult. Add a bunch of losing to the equation and things only get harder. But this is the job he signed up for. It’s time for him to put in the work or fail trying.
In terms of tonight, the Lakers are again on the road and facing a team who is much better than them. The Hawks aren’t some powerhouse, but they have Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, a good coach and a winning record on the year. If the Lakers hope to win, there are surely X’s and O’s things they can do — limit Korver’s 3 point attempts, keep Horford and Milsap off the glass, slow down Teague (and Dennis Schoeder) in transition — but mostly they just need to play harder and smarter.
There needs to be less loafing defensively. The help needs to be there quicker and with more purpose. They must cut out the turnovers, set better screens, and be more attentive on when and how to cut against defenses gearing up to slow down many of their pet actions. They also need to hit some shots. The return of Nick Young may help with the latter and it will be interesting to see how much burn the swaggy one gets in his first game back after tearing a thumb ligament in his shooting hand. The Lakers sorely need Young’s scoring punch as a bridge between their starting and bench units, so it’d be great if he could hit the ground running — even if we shouldn’t expect that.
The best way to cure frustrations from losing is to get a W. The Lakers, after dealing with defeat nine out of ten times to start the year, are clearly frustrated. Some adjustments from the coach, some better decisions from the players (including Kobe, who can give more defensively and cut out some of the over-shooting he’s done), and a few lucky bounces would go a long way in making that happen.
Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.