After beating the Miami Heat on Friday, the Lakers are back in action tonight to take on the Magic. Orlando, like the other Florida team, are on a Western Conference trip with tonight’s game the first of a 6 game venture away from Disney World. Orlando is currently 12th in the East, certainly not where they’d want to be after bringing on Frank Vogel as coach and several new players — including Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo — in an attempt to make the playoffs.

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It was the Lakers’ first game after a nice Christmas win and D’Angelo Russell really wasn’t shooting the ball that great. The opponent was the Jazz and Russell closed the game with only 4 points on 2-11 shooting. Fans were in my twitter mentions telling me I was being overly praiseful of the Lakers’ 2nd year point guard because I had the audacity to tweet this.

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Getting back to Portland, just because the Lakers have the chance to do some of these things doesn’t mean it will happen easily. The Blazers are a bad defensive team, but have enough offense to turn the tenor of a game into a shootout where they can thrive. Further, that type of game tends to throw off game plans and get players into the type of mindset where they think everything will come easy. Until it doesn’t. Which is how a nice chunk of Lakers’ leads have been blown of late.

That is from yesterday’s game preview for the game against the Blazers. A game the team lost after going cold in the 4th quarter and struggling with general flatness and poor execution to start the 3rd quarter. It was a game the Lakers had a double digit lead in (again), but lost (again). This is frustrating for many. I know. I have a comments section and a twitter account where people like to show that frustration.

Anyways, I block quote the above because it’s sort of what happened in the game. The Lakers had a nice flow in the 1st half, getting to the FT line to stay in the game through the 1st period and then opening up a lead when their attacking of the Blazers’ soft defense finally started to result in made baskets during the 2nd period. All was good. Until it wasn’t.

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The Lakers were like ice cubes in the middle of the Sahara. The Blazers took advantage of the Lakers clanking everything late. Portland won with the final tally, 118-109.

L.A. overcame cold shooting in the first quarter as they got to the line 15 times (making 13). The bench came in and got hot; they blazed through the second quarter (har har!) with 38 points. They got hot shooting from Jordan Clarkson and the Blazers had trouble with the combo of Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson. L.A. led by as many as 14 points but the halftime lead was reduced to 9 points.

Portland came back with an 18-4 run and it was a back-and-forth affair for a while. But I like what D’Angelo Russell did. He went to the post and made some great turnaround jumpers. He scored 10 of his 22 points in that all-important fourth quarter.

Unfortunately, that shot by Russell was the last field goal for a while for the Lakers.

Evan Turner took advantage of Lou Williams and was straight fi-yah in the fourth quarter. At the same time, the Lakers played like they were in the freezer for the next few minutes. L.A. went 5:09 without a field goal. On the other side, Turner, Damian Lillard, and C.J. McCollum couldn’t stop making shots. By the time Julius Randle made a lay-up, it was too late.

I question a bit of Luke Walton’s rotation choices. Would’ve liked to see more of Tarik/Robinson on the floor in the second half. Lou Williams got stuck against a hot Evan Turner (15 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter); it would’ve helped to have a better defender on Turner (Ingram?). But once again, panic reared its ugly head on the youthful Lakers core. They started putting up quick shots when they couldn’t get anything down. It was discouraging, to say the least. Yet another blown lead by the Lakers.

C.J. McCollum led Portland wih 27 points while Lillard (who played his first game in a while) scored 21. Turner (20 points) and Allen Crabbe (14 points) were able to counter the usually deadly Laker bench. In fact, Portland tied L.A.’s bench in scoring at 39. On L.A.’s side, Russell had 22 (although he went a gross 0/8 from three) while Jordan Clarkson had 21 points. Randle didn’t shoot well but he did finish with 17 points and 9 boards. We know Lakers were without Larry Nance, Jr. but Luol Deng was also scratched out. Brandon Ingram replaced Deng in the starting line-up. He played very well in the first half; that spin move in the first half he did was pretty.

Lakers continue to have a tendency to leave those three-point shooters; the players continue to melt on those back picks and those high screen-and-roll plays. Also, I wish that the Lakers would make an immediate change if they see a match-up problem (going back to Evan Turner here). On the positive side, they took care of the ball (11 turnovers). It’s too bad that their offense just… died in the last six minutes of the game.

The Lakers are 13-26. If you’re still looking for that 8th playoff spot, they are 4 games behind the Sacramento Kings for that ever-so-coveted spot. It’s too bad that this wasn’t a blowout either way; the Lakers are back at Staples Center tomorrow night as they take on the Miami Heat. This could be a schedule loss but the Miami Heat aren’t exactly a good team so they have a chance here.

Growing pains. That’s what the Lakers have to go through. And I don’t mean the Seaver family.

I have been a bit more bullish on the Lakers recently than, from what I can tell, your average fan. The Lakers won two games in December and wrapped the new year holiday with losses to the Mavericks (who are bad) and the Raptors (who are good). The Mavs loss was particularly dispiriting since the game featured a big lead, a 2nd half collapse, and effort levels that could be at best called sporadic and at worst at times reprehensible.

I remained optimistic about the team, though, because though stretches of poor play persisted their were lineups which were still performing well and, as noted, they were still taking leads in nearly every game they played. So, I chose to focus on the good aspects they were doing with the hope they would get more consistent at them rather than continue to find ways to undo those positives.

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Remember when the Lakers played the Grizzlies in Memphis and lost even though they were missing Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Chandler Parsons, and others? I don’t blame you if you want to forget, but it actually did happen. Yes, the game was close and the Lakers were at the end of a brutal 4 game in 5 night stretch that saw them travel thousands of miles, but how it went is how it went.

Well, tonight the Grizz are in Los Angeles and have been there for a couple of days after a New Year’s Eve game in Sacramento. And this time they have Conley back, Z-Bo back, and Parsons back. Marc Gasol does have a sprained ankle, but after a couple of days off he could still play.

In other words, after the Lakers lost to a very depleted Memphis team, now they have to play the Grizz at (basically) full strength. If you think this is a problem, you would be correct.

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The Lakers are 2-15 in their last 17 games. They’ve fallen off defensively and, while they have recaptured some of their explosiveness on offense, they still cannot seem to put together a full 48 minutes to hold onto games in their grasp. The players are frustrated, Luke Walton is frustrated, and fans are starting to get downright despondent.

In the latest Laker Film Room Podcast, Pete and I discuss what’s been going wrong, what our expectations are moving forward, and what changes the team should be looking to make heading into the 2nd half of the season. Click through below to listen.

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When watching games, one of the most oft-cited stats when it comes to the Lakers is points in the paint allowed. The Lakers are league’s worst team of points allowed in the paint, surrendering 47.9 points a game. In case you were wondering, this ranking is not a product of pace as the Lakers are also worst in the league per 100 possessions at 47.6.

This fact leads most analysis to tilt towards the Lakers needing to do a better job protecting the rim. This is, to a certain extent, true. For example, here is the Lakers’ shot chart for the season to this point:

lakers-overall-shot-chart

In case you were wondering that green circle near the basket is bad.

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