So much for building on the momentum the Lakers had going coming into the game. After winning 5 straight, the Lakers lost only their 3rd home game of the season (and gave the road weary Jazz only their 6th win away from Salt Lake all year) by falling 103-99 to the Jazz.
There’s really not much to say about this game, though. Kobe Bryant played his worst game of the season, shooting 3-20 from the field (including 1-6 from three point range) while adding 7 turnovers. He saved his worst for last, as he shot 1-7 in the 4th quarter trying to spark his team when only a couple of baskets could have given the Lakers the control they had sought for most of the contest. It simply wasn’t Kobe’s night, as he missed shots he’d normally make with ease, short-arming bunnies in the paint and rattling out jumpers all evening. Maybe worse than his offensive mishaps though, was how his defense suffered too. Rookie Alec Burks took him off the dribble multiple times in the final frame, beat him for a key offensive put-back, and even sank a jumper in the P&R when Kobe could barely be bothered to fight through the screen. Burks ended the night with a career high 17 points on only 10 shots, and a lot of that was on Bean’s watch. I don’t blame single players for losses (and won’t do it now) but considering how much this team needs Kobe to play well for them to win on most nights, I’ve no problem calling him the primary culprit in this one.
The main reason Kobe can’t take full fault in this one was the fact that the rest of his mates were just as careless with the ball and nearly as negligent on defense as he was. Kobe may have had 7 TOs on his line, but the rest of the team added 17 more, which the Jazz took advantage of to the tune of 22 points. Defensively, the Lakers surrendered 10 offensive rebounds, 28 assists on Utah’s 43 made baskets, and let the Jazz get off 53 shots in the painted area (allowing 52 points). The Laker wings were unable to slow dribble penetration, the bigs were late in rotating, and no one did a very good job of challenging shots. All in all, the Jazz made over 50% of their 2 point shots, with Paul Millsap going off for 24 points and rookie Enes Kanter joining Burks in getting a career high of 17 points on 6-7 shooting. The Jazz certainly deserve credit in outworking the Lakers, but the home team was much too accommodating in letting their opponents get whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted to get it.
Not all was awful for the Lakers, though. The Laker big men were excellent on offense, with Pau tallying 18 points on 8-12 shooting while Andrew Bynum bullied his way to 33 points on only 14 (!) shots. Pau showed a variety of nice moves around the rim and was mostly money on his mid-range jumper. Bynum did what he’s been doing to most opponents lately, catching lobs for easy dunks, posting up with power and finishing with both hands, and flashing excellent footwork and counter moves when the defense tried to take away his primary action. Bynum also displayed excellent touch at the foul line, making 9 of his 12 freebies.
Beyond the big men there were some other good flashes from the team. Sessions’ speed and playmaking for the second straight game made a positive impression. He got his teammates easy baskets in transition and earned 10 FTs simply by using his quickness in the open court and the P&R to draw contact from his defender. Sessions also showed good chemistry with Matt Barnes, hooking up with him for several baskets that helped him get his 12 points on the night.
However, those were the only positives on a mostly sour night. Because while the game was close most of the way, the Lakers simply couldn’t get out of their own way for long enough to seize a game that was there for the taking. The glass half empty approach says that this team still makes too many mistakes with enough below average performers to keep them a tier below, but the glass half full approach says that despite Kobe being awful, the utter carelessness with the ball, and the D being way below where it is on most nights, the Lakers lost by only 4 points. The truth about this team is that they’re still not where they want to be, but are showing some positive signs of getting better. Sessions is helping. Barnes is proving to have good chemistry with both PGs. Bynum has become a beast on more nights than not, and even when he’s not on his game he’s a walking double-double. Yes there’s room to grow, but for the first time in a long time, when the Lakers lose I can still say that things aren’t quite as bad as they look.