Bill Parcells has a saying, â€œYou are what your record says you are.â€
The Lakers are a 12-9 basketball team, one that cannot compete with the top five teams in the West (we are 0-5 against Phoenix, Seattle, San Antonio and Sacramento â€” and we havenâ€™t seen Minnesota yet, but Iâ€™ll count them in the group). That may well be 0-6 after Thursday night. The Lakers are a fighting-for-a-playoff team with some obvious holes.
The Sonics gave us a shocking reminder of that. Last nightâ€™s loss in Seattle felt like one big step backwards after a weekend where we stated to feel good about out team. Everything the Lakers seem to have started to do right, they did wrong â€” and got thrashed for it.
First, the Sonics exposed the Lakers poor rotation on perimeter defense (as have the Suns and others before), leading to too many open shots for a good-shooting team. Defensive rotation is a hard thing to point to statistically, but one glaring season stat on Lakers defense is obvious â€” when Laker opponents score 100 points or more, the Lakers are 0-8, when the Lakers hold opponents under 100 they are 12-1.
Another magic number for the Lakers seems to be 21. As in 21 assists. When they reach that plateau they are 9-3, when they donâ€™t they are 3-6. Put more simply, when the Lakers spread the floor and share the ball they do better â€” also evidenced by the fact Kobe averages 19.7 shots per game in Laker wins and 23.3 in Laker losses. Last night it was all isolation plays for the Lakers, and just 12 assists.
There were plenty of other problems: Lamar Odom returned to his invisible man imitation; bench play was lacking (only Jumaine Jones showed energy); Chucky Atkins was the guy getting open looks in the first half but had an off night; Tierre Brown came in and shot as bad as Atkins; etcâ€¦
Lets not take anything away from the Sonics, they are for real. Not only can they shoot â€” we knew that â€” but they played aggressive, smart defense, holding the Lakers to 39.5% shooting (oddly, at the end of the first half the Lakers were 1 of 11 from shots right of the key, outside the lane). But donâ€™t just take my word or your eyes for it â€” one of the best in depth basketball analyzation sites on the web, Hoops Analyst, did an excellent piece where it was pointed out the Sonics are not a flash in the pan.
Theyâ€™re success has happened more because they seem to have found solutions to their problems than because of players who are on an early season tear. Thereâ€™s nothing dramatic here. The improvement in rebounding and turnover differential is good for probably around 6-7 points, while the additional free throws are good for another 4-5. Add in the improved defense and you have a team thatâ€™s contending.
(As a side note, a similar analysis of Phoenix said that the wheels will come off that bandwagon. These breakdowns are well worth the read.)
That game hurt because I thought there was progress, but when the Lakers were confronted with a real challenge bad habits came out like an alcoholic at the company Christmas Party. Maybe things will be different in Sacramento, but my optimism has faded. Did everyone else feel as kicked in the gut as I did?
Update: If you want to read more on the Suns and Sonics start, Knickerblogger (the best NBA blogger, for my money) gets into the act today.