I have been a bit more bullish on the Lakers recently than, from what I can tell, your averageĀ 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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After a couple of days off — the first of which involved Luke Walton not holding a practice the day after his team’s disappointing loss to the Mavericks — the Lakers are back on the court tonight against the Raptors. And while the Lakers may not be as bad as they seem, that might not matter with the quality of opponent they will face tonight.

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2016 brought a lot of memories for Lakers’ fans. Mostly bad ones. The losses piled up and as the 2015-16 season wore on fans became more interested in whether the team would keep their top-3 protected draft pick than anything that happened on the court. Game after game many fans either actively cheered for losses or became so apathetic about the on-court results being a fan felt like work.

Of course, not the entire year was bad. The team did keep their draft pick. The team also made a coaching change and hired Luke Walton. The start of this season also offered some truly genuine feel good moments as the team shot out to a 9-7 start by playing a fun brand of basketball that reminded us all of what it was like to enjoy watching the Lakers play basketball.

But all the good moments were just about ushering in change and the resulting bump in play under the new regime. In fact, I would argue none of those things come close to the feeling we all had on the final day of this past season when Kobe Byrant rode off into the sunset in the most Kobe Bryant way imaginable.

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I know, I know. You just read that title and wanted to close your web browser. What the hell do I mean the Lakers aren’t as bad as they seem?! They’ve lost an ungodly number of games recently, going 2-14 in the month of December. They’ve found ways to blow games late, blow them early, and play poorly enough to not really be in games at all. That there, my friends, is some trifecta.

Here’s the thing, though, despite all those losses, they are still mostly competitive in every single game. Beyond that, in some contests they’ve led by large margins and played strongly for most of the game only have a bad quarter (or a terrible stretch within one) to find a way to lose.

Come from ahead losses have to be the most frustrating for players and coaches, but fans might take them even worse. There’s nothing like sitting their watching the team play well only to see them inexplicably start to play terribly and give it all back. In a post earlier this year I likened it to a gambler stacking up huge winnings at the craps table only to decide he needed to test his luck at roulette instead of just cashing in.

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Well, I had mentioned it in the preview. The Lakers have trouble playing consistently in all four quarters. In fact, this game was a tale of two halves. The Mavericks bulldozed them in the second half and went on to win, 101-89.

Los Angeles started off well enough. They had runs of 15-0 and 10-0 and looked ready to break the game open; L.A. led by 11 at one point. The Mavericks hung around, though, as they kept forcing the game to slow down every time they got the ball. The Lakers countered by trying to turn it into a track meet. They ran out on breaks and in the halfcourt, they passed the ball around. Nick Young made all four of his threes, D’Angelo Russell scored 13 in the first half, and the Lakers led by seven at the half.

Then good Laker ball stopped after halftime.

The offense stalled and we saw the same frustrating rock pounding and lack of movement. On the other side, the Mavericks picked them apart with high screen and rolls all night. I said that the Lakers had to communicate often on defense as they tend to get lost in switches, which leaves for open threes. And I also mentioned that Dallas shoots a lot of threes. The Mavs made them pay as they cashed in on 14 of their 31 shots behind the arc (Lakers only made seven). The Lakers have played like this all month but this seems to be the most glaring loss out of all of them.

Going iso for the Lakers really played into the hands of Dallas. Mavericks wanted to play it slow and it’s exactly what they got in the second half. Dallas made the most out of their possessions and they outscored Los Angeles, 31-13, in the third quarter. For a 5:19 stretch in that period, L.A. did not score. The Lakers would only go on to score 32 points overall in the second half.

Wesley Matthews led the Mavs in scoring with 20 points. Harrison Barnes wasn’t as great in this game but he still did damage when he got the ball on the block; he had 17 points. But I had mentioned the guards that didn’t play in their first meeting that could have big games. Devin Harris went for 14 points while Deron Williams had 11 dimes. Dwight Powell energized the Mavs with 14 points and Dorian Finney-Smith made some big shots on the way to 12 points. Andrew Bogut was on a minutes restriction (he played 22) but he was immense in stopping the Lakers from doing damage inside the paint. Dallas also outboarded the Lakers, 42-34. (By the way, Dirk Nowitzki was a late scratch due to an illness.)

As for the Lakers, Julius Randle led the squad with 18. Nick Young started off hot but didn’t really put up too many shots after the first quarter; he had 17 points. Russell only scored two points in the second half after going for 13 in the first half. Jordan Clarkson actually played decent with 15 points and Thomas Robinson seemingly was the only guy hustling with 8 points and 10 boards. They probably could’ve gotten more points if… oh, I don’t know… they moved a little bit?

As we’ve seen in a lot of games this month, the Laker players seemed to be content to just stand there and pretend like they’re lampshades. Yes, I know they’re young and inexperienced. Heck, they’re probably even overconfident after they went 10-10. It’s like they think they can rest on their laurels and win games. No, they won games because they all worked together and weren’t being lazy and careless on both ends of the floor. You can’t make a delicious dish without putting the work in the kitchen. You can’t get the woman or man of your dreams by just watching and not talking to her or him. And you can’t win a basketball game by being flat-footed. A lot of basketball is predicated on movement. But everyone knows that and the Lakers should know that.

Either way, that’s the last game for the Lakers in 2016 (2-14 in December! Ouch!). Hopefully, 2017 will be better for the Lakers (and for a lot of us; I understand a lot of people have lamented how bad 2016 was). So Happy New Year, people, and stay safe.