At this point, the only thing predictable about the Lakers is their unpredictability.
After what could easily be described as their best win of the season on Friday in a blowout of the Nuggets, the Lakers lost to a 5-10 Magic team by the double digit count of 113-103. To say this team is inconsistent would be kind.
There are many reasons for this loss. But if narrowing it down to only two, the Lakers simply didn’t defend well and their FT’s were a major issue again.
Tackling the second issue first, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn went to the Hack-a-Dwight strategy late in the 3rd quarter and again with a shade under 5 minutes left in the game. The strategy worked wonderfully as Dwight clearly started to think too much about his misses and it snowballed on him. In the second half, Dwight shot 19 free throws but only hit 8 of them. Several times he went to line and missed both, which equated to empty possessions that the Lakers sorely needed to try and cut into a deficit.
Furthermore, the strategy to intentionally foul Dwight meant the Lakers were out of rhythm on offense at a time where they really needed to find a good flow. The Magic had found their offense and were scoring on nearly every trip down the court by the time the game got to crunch time. Meanwhile, the Lakers couldn’t get anything going besides Kobe attacking out of the P&R and even that was an every other (or every third) possession action based off the fact the Magic started to foul Dwight.
But, even though the offense started to sputter, where the Lakers lost this game was on the defensive side of the ball. Time after time Jameer Nelson ran a simple P&R at Dwight, and when he’d hedge the Magic would simply make a couple of passes behind him and no other Laker decided to provide any effective help. The key to a good defense is that the 2nd and 3rd rotations need to be as sharp as the first one. The Lakers simply didn’t have that tonight. Didn’t have it at all.
Time after time the man who was supposed to either help on the dive man or go to the corner got exposed. This led to open dunks by Nikola Vucevic or open three pointers on the wing. Crisp passing was the foundation of Orlando’s offense and the Lakers simply had no ability to do anything about it.
And no Laker was immune here. Ron was the person that got sucked in too far when helping in the paint which resulted in a JJ Redick three pointer that pushed Orlando’s lead to 6 (which they never turned back from). The only reason Ron was even on Redick was because Kobe wasn’t much better when guarding the former Dukie. That left Kobe on Afflalo and time after time Kobe got picked off on simple pin downs when guarding Afflalo that allowed him to get open on curls, allowing easy jumpers or even easier kick out passes. The bigs weren’t much better (especially Jamison, who closed the game instead of Gasol) as they didn’t help on off ball screens to deny passing angles and then didn’t protect the rim when guys shook free on dives to the paint.
Ultimately, the Lakers played exactly the way they needed to avoid. They got sloppy on defense, became one dimensional on offense, and as things started to go against them they looked to give up on the idea they could actually win the game. Well, they ended up being right. The Magic came into L.A. and won the game their fans wanted the most out of any game this season (at least until the Lakers visit Orlando). I’d say I’m surprised that the Lakers lost this game but, to be honest, the up and down nature of this team is almost becoming too common to really raise an eyebrow over. Bad habits are forming with this group and if they don’t start to change them, this is who they will become.
Some additional notes:
*Jordan Hill was a DNP-CD in this game. On a night where the Lakers needed better paint defense and lacked energy, his sitting the entire game was somewhat of a question mark for me.
*For those that want Jamison playing big minutes, understand that nights like these are possible too. He was efficient enough by shooting 4-7 from the field for 10 points. But his defense in the paint left a lot to be desired, especially down the stretch.
*I don’t think Kobe deserves blame for how he plays on offense. He’s been very good at being a playmaker and tonight his 5 assists (along with Ron) led the team. However, I still believe that asking him to run P&R’s so often and balance playmaking with his instinct to score is too much to ask. His shot/pass decision making can still be too tilted towards scoring (which, I can’t blame him too much for) and it’s leading to too many possessions where he’s the only player that touches the ball. This team needs a top flight Kobe to be its best. But it also needs everyone else involved. On nights like this there were too many possessions where the latter didn’t happen. The result was Kobe getting 34 points, but on 27 shots when no one else took more than 13.
*Yes, I’m still thinking about Dwight’s missed free throws.
*D’Antoni is still obviously learning his team as evidenced by his rotations. Meeks only played 9 minutes tonight while Devin Ebanks played 11. Combine this with Hill’s zero, and it’s clear D’Antoni is trying to sort out who should play and how much. I’m fine with the experimentation simply because he didn’t have a camp and is still figuring out these players. That said, I wish the Lakers could get on a roll and win more games while going through this learning curve.
*I miss the Darius Morris that looked like he was figuring things out. Right now, he looks like as lost as he did when he first started to see minutes, especially on offense. The thing is, the Lakers need his defense but if he can’t initiate the sets and makes poor decisions on when he should attack or pull back, he’s hurting the team when he’s in the game.