Buzzer beaters are extraordinary. They are high-five-inducing miracles. They can be season-enders, championship-winners, back-breakers, and everything in between. They can even cause men with young children asleep in the living room to loudly yell in glory only to find that as their yell dwindles another voice, a crying voice, rises. Then a third voice rises. This one is motherly, but angry. This voice is pissed that the baby is awake.
“But Kobe just hit another game-winning buzzer-beater,” pleads the apologetic father.
“Great. Now that you woke up the baby, change his diaper and make him a bottle,” she replies.
A stat that has been thrown around a lot recently is the Lakers excellent play in close games. The Lakers are now 7-2 in games decided by 3 or less points. Both of those losses came on the recent road trip. What is staggering to me about that stat is not the success the Lakers have had, but the percentage of games being decided by that small of a margin.
The Lakers have played 49 games. A full 9 of those have been settled by 3 points or less. That is 18%, or around 1 in 5. In terms of close games won, the team has won 7 of their 37 wins by 3 points or less. Again, that is around 1 in 5. So almost 20% of the Lakers wins this year have been gut-wrenching games with an emotionally-charged finish. In other words, I wind up changing my son’s diaper and giving him a bottle after 20% of Laker victories (surprise, it was me I was quoting earler!).
This has to stop.
When the Lake show plays Boston or Denver, you expect a fight. Cleveland or Orlando? Bring on the close game. Thunder, Bucks, Warriors, Kings? Those won’t even be close, right?
Granted the Thunder are a better team this year. The Warriors score like crazy. The Kings have some young talent. But still… why are these games so close?
Why is it that the Laker team that can beat a title contender one night can’t handle a team that MIGHT make the playoffs the following night? Why is it even close?
The only thing I can come up with is effort. Sure we can talk about coaching strategies and matchups. We can talk about poor shooting nights where the ball just doesn’t fall. Every team will have those. But how often can you chalk it up to those before you have to look for another excuse?
This season’s Lakers are a Jekyll and Hyde group. They have the raw talent to win every night. They have the coaching to win every night. They have the leader to follow in order to win every night. But they don’t.
They don’t run back on defense after a possession and we get burned on fast break points. They force full-court passes that are unnecessary and cause turnovers. They shoot 60% as a team from the foul line. They settle for outside shots when two of the most talented big men in the game are waiting on the block for touches.
It’s hard to come off a win against Boston and even be upset about a missed buzzer-beater against Memphis. My mental high from Sunday carried through last night’s game and made me slightly indifferent about the outcome. It wasn’t until today that it hit me- the Lakers are better than this.
If I may, I’d like to lay out a wish list for a few select players over the next few games:
Ron: Be aggressive, but don’t force it. You’ve got this habit of missing difficult layups that is perplexing. How about kicking it back out if you wind up in traffic?
Pau: Find your shot. Your post play has been great with your back to the basket, but your face up game has declined from last season.
Derek: Keep on fighting. Run without the ball and get open looks- you have been taking ill-advised shots ever since you started slumping. Very few players can shoot their way out of a slump.
Andrew: Finish two-handed, rebound two-handed, and keep the ball high. It kills me to see you get stripped. When someone beats you on defense, you don’t ALWAYS have to foul.
Kobe: Know your limits and play within them. Your shooting percentage is down. I don’t think it’s due to a lack of effort. I think your injuries are causing you to lose some ability. Recognize that and adjust. Don’t just take more shots to make up for a lower percentage.
Shannon: We love when you dunk, but you don’t always have to dunk. It seems like it’s your first thought when you get the ball. Yes, people get excited for that, but you’ve stated you want to be a multi-dimensional player. Slow it down a bit and play under control. You’ve got potential like none other.
Jordan: Don’t get frustrated. You force things when you’re frustrated.
If the team can just find a way to come together and put in the effort, there won’t be so many close games. The average margin of victory will rise. The record will rise. The team won’t bounce all over the power rankings each week.
Most importantly, you’ll save me from changing a few diapers.