“The road winning streak is dead. Long live the road winning streak.” – me, just now.
The Lakers lost to the Pacers 105-102 on Tuesday night. The loss snapped the team’s 14 game road winning streak and halted their overall streak of wins at 7 games. This was a hard fought defensive slugfest of a contest, but the Lakers didn’t have enough offense, their outside shooting letting them down and LeBron not playing to his normal standards — at least as a scoring threat.
LeBron’s performance and the outside shooting are related, so let’s tackle both. As a team, the Lakers shot 8-31 from behind the arc. LeBron had 6 of those misses and none of the makes. Not what you want to see. The inability to hit outside shots effectively shrunk the floor, making the paint incredibly crowded with second and third defenders lurking whenever anyone drove to the rim — particularly LeBron.
LeBron is past the point of his career where he can simply go over the top of a slew of defenders camping in the restricted area. Oh, he can climb a single mountain — we’ve seen that plenty this year. But when there’s more than one guy waiting, LeBron knows the right play is to pass. He did that well all night, but found his most success dumping off passes to his big men rather than to his spot up shooters.
Getting your bigs dunks is great, but it does not loosen up the defense by creating wider driving lanes. Over the course of the game, then, the Lakers faced more and more defenders 10-feet and in just waiting for them. Without the ability to make this type of approach pay with 3-point baskets, the Lakers could never create separation or go on the type of run that could turn the game in their favor.
On the other end of the floor, the Pacers hit 40% of their 25 attempts from behind the arc. And while 10 made 3’s isn’t a huge number, it was enough to keep the Lakers defense honest in ways that kept them scrambling more than they’d like. Indy drove and kicked the Lakers at a rate that not only created good shots, but tired them out in the process. Covering that much ground and needing to be that sharp possession after possession comes with costs paid in tired legs and mental mistakes that result in one fewer loose ball here, one offensive rebound surrendered there, and one or two too many easy driving lanes that lead to an open layup.
Over the course of a game, those things add up. And for the Pacers, they added up to a hard earned win. Good for them. And I mean that sincerely, too. The Lakers weren’t at full strength and the nature of their injuries meant that two of their top 3 scorers who were out would be the replacement for each other in normal circumstances. But the Pacers played hard and stared down a Lakers team who’s been great in the clutch all year by making game winning plays. They deserve credit for this.
The Lakers also deserve some credit. They didn’t play particularly well, but they played hard. Their defense got stretched thin, but they battled all night and many guys from their bench stepped up to keep them in it when LeBron was out of the game. Play after play these guys flew around the court, trying to make plays to help their team win. Many times they were successful, others not as much. But the effort was there. They almost pulled it off, too.
Even in a loss, then, I love this team. I really do. You cannot win them all, but you can act like you want to. The Lakers wanted this one badly. And on a night where it would have been easy to look forward to Thursday’s game with the Bucks, the Lakers stared the Pacers right in the face and gave it their best effort. This night that wasn’t good enough, but dammit if I’m not going to recognize what they left out there on the floor.
Now, my notes…
- If you want to see where the Lakers missed AD most, look at Domantas Sabonis’ stats: 26 points on 10-15 shooting, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists. While it’s difficult to know how Vogel would have deployed AD against Indy’s dual-bigs lineups, Sabonis is the hub of what Indy does offensively as a screener, roll man, and post up player so I’d imagine AD would have seen a fair amount of time on him. JaVale did an okay job early on Sabonis early and Dwight had some moments as well, but the Lakers could have used AD’s defense both individually and as a rotator in their team scheme to help limit Sabonis. I wrote in my preview that Indy’s bigs would be a matchup test for the Lakers and without AD that was only highlighted more.
- In a game the Lakers lost by 3 points, they went 8-17 from the foul line. LeBron only went 4-8 from the stripe (though he did hit two big ones very late in the game to tie the score). Overall, though, that’s too many misses. It’s also not enough trips to the line, to be honest. That’s not shade at the refs, it’s more just noting that the Lakers needed to work to draw more fouls on a night where their offense was struggling. Another area where they missed Davis, really.
- Keeping on the FT theme, I’m sure LeBron is going to catch some heat for his misses. And, I get that. I’m sure he gets it too. I’m not going to kill him over this, though. I honestly just think he had a real heavy lift this game and didn’t play as well as he needed to. It happens and players as great as him deserve a fair amount of slack when they have these types of one-off games. So, yeah.
- Shout out to Dwight Howard. 10-10 field goals for 20 points. He also had 6 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. In a game the Lakers needed more scoring, Dwight did his best to be a threat — catching lobs, working the offensive glass, and just being a presence in the paint. With this performance Dwight became only the 3rd player in NBA history to score 20 or more points and grab at least 6 rebounds without making a FT nor missing a shot from the field when taking at least 10 shots. He joins Wilt and Tyson Chandler on this list.
- Shout out to Alex Caruso, too. 11 points on 4-8 shooting, including 2-5 on 3’s. He chipped in 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals without a single turnover. Add in his mostly strong defense and he was really good this game.
- Speaking of Caruso, his +9 and Danny Green’s +5 were the only positive plus-minus numbers for the entire Lakers team for guys who played meaningful minutes. There’s always noise in plus-minus, but I think this time it got it right. Both of those guys helped when on the floor and I thought it showed in their overall effectiveness.
- One area where I thought plus-minus got it wrong was Rondo’s -4 in 25 minutes. I thought Rondo played mostly well, particularly offensively even if his shot did not fall. He had 7 assists and really organized the team’s offense when LeBron was on the bench. He also nearly had a huge late game save on a would-be offensive rebound after a long LeBron missed jumper that careened out of bounds. The ball was originally ruled to the Lakers, but was overturned by replay.
- Last point on LeBron — with tie-in to Vogel. On the team’s last full offensive possession, the Lakers had the ball with 35 seconds left and down by 2. I was really hoping the Lakers would go 2-for-1 on that possession, looking to get a quick shot in order to extend the game and play out the possession battle. Instead LeBron ran the clock all the way down and missed a long 3 that led to the Rondo attempted save. Who knows if this game goes differently if the Lakers go quick, but I thought this was a rare misstep by Bron/Vogel to not design a more quick hitting play.
That’s all on this one, ya’ll.