Right now, with the roster that they have at their disposal, the Lakers’ margin for error is thin when they’re facing a good team. A team like the Chicago Bulls, for example. So when the Lakers commit too many turnovers, get away from what works on offense for long stretches, and can’t win the battle of the boards or the scrums for 50/50 balls, a loss becomes more and more likely. Tonight, that’s exactly what happened as the Lakers fell to the Bulls 88-84.
The game started out well with the Lakers taking command early by executing their offense with crisp precision. The ball went into the post and players were cutting and getting rewarded with textbook passes for easy buckets. Players were setting good screens and working together to create the good shots within the flow of the offense. On defense, they stuck to their game plan to make the Bulls a jumpshooting team by collapsing the paint when Derek Rose had the ball and helping on the screen actions off the ball. All these factors allowed the Lakers to take a 22-12 lead at the end of the first period.
But after that point, it all went downhill. In the second quarter, the Lakers reserves came and the execution suffered. Passes got sloppy. Shots stopped falling. Rather than make the simple play by moving the ball on to the open player, the Lakers began to try and create off the dribble to create offense. The Lakers’ misses then allowed the Bulls to push the ball in transition, putting pressure on the road team to defend the speedy Bulls guards in the open court. This collapsed the Lakers’ D and allowed the Bulls shooters (especially Kyle Korver) to get open shots. Slowly but surely, the pace of the game began to shift in Chicago’s favor and the Lakers suffered because of it. By the time that halftime came, the Lakers had given up their entire lead and actually trailed by 4 after 24 minutes.
In the 2nd half, the game again settled down to a tempo that suited the Lakers better, but the Lakers ability to knock down shots abandoned them. Attempts to run the offense through the post were successful, but any shots outside the paint just wouldn’t fall. On the night, the Lakers only made 3 of their 13 attempts from downtown and a simple examination of the shot chart for the game shows that the Lakers didn’t fair much better on their long two point attempts either.
Meanwhile, the Bulls carried over their improved shooting from the second quarter and also started to better execute their offense against a Lakers’ D that was trying to do the right thing, but just couldn’t get the job done as they didn’t execute well enough on the back end of the play. On some possessions the Lakers showed well on the P&R, only to be beat by an excellent pocket bounce pass to the roll man as the weakside defense rotated late. On other possessions the Bulls went into the post to Carlos Boozer and were then beat when he made good passes to open shooters as the Lakers’ defense overreacted on his drives and over helped on his straight post ups. And on every other possession, Derrick Rose played like the phenomenal player that he is. Countless times he created something out of nothing by going by a Laker defender or hitting an obscene jumper against the shot clock or getting out in the open court to create an easy (for him, at least) basket. On the night he finished with 29 points and 9 assists and heard MVP chants from his home crowd.
In the end though, this game resembled so many of the other recent Lakers’ losses. The Lakers shooting isn’t what it was to start the season and their big men tire down the stretch. This leads to poor offensive execution and too many defensive possessions where interior rotations are slow (or non existent) and defensive rebounds aren’t corralled. Tonight, Pau Gasol had a good statistical line (9-15 from the floor, 21 points, 8 rebounds) but played another 45 minutes and tired down the stretch. After getting some good looks inside at the beginning the game, Kobe became more reliant on his outside shot to the tune of a 9-23 line to get his 23 points. You add all of this to the fact that Blake, Brown, Artest, and Fisher shot 4-21 from the field and it’s a recipe for another loss as the Lakers just couldn’t put up enough points to keep pace with a Bulls team that got hot in the middle portion of the contest and then held on down the stretch.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but the Lakers don’t have all their pieces and it’s severely affecting their ability to win games. Missing Bynum and Ratliff is just taking its toll. In order to compensate for these guys being out, the remaining front court players are either pacing themselves in preparation of playing heavy minutes or expending too much energy to keep games close and tuckering out at the end. The Lakers guards appear to be pressing a bit more and their accuracy from the field suffers for it. Sadly though, there just isn’t an answer until the team gets healthy. This team is just going to have to take its lumps now, and then start to hand out some beatings of their own when they’re physically able to. I understand that it’s a frustrating way to go through this stretch of the year, but it’s the truth. This team is still talented enough to win games and keep the others competitive with the ability to make a closing push. But in the end, they show the wear on their tires and can’t pull out the win. Again, the margin for error is just thin. Yes, there’s reason for concern and of course we’d all like it to be different. But the sky isn’t falling, the circumstances are just not on the Lakers side right now. We’ll see if they can turn the game in their favor when they continue this road trip in Jersey on Sunday.