The Lakers just don’t seem to play well on Sundays. After today’s loss, the Lakers dropped to 4-4 on Sundays, a mediocre .500 record.
But Sunday games aren’t at the top of L.A.’s list of problems. Teams like the Nuggets, on the other hand, are.
Falling back on bad habits, L.A. looked like the talented yet disinterested team that underachieved before the All-Star break. Despite their inconsistent effort and apathetic attitude, L.A. still had a great chance to steal the game with a few minutes remaining.
Yet down the stretch, L.A. didn’t look like the two-time defending champions we’ve grown to know. They looked like an inexperienced JV team playing in a Varsity league.
Instead of making smart crunch-time decisions, the Lakers turned the ball over, forced 3-pointers, and were dominated down low.
With 4:23 remaining in the 4th quarter the Lakers led the Nuggets 83-82 after a long jumper by Derek Fisher.
This would mark the Lakers’ last lead, as the Nuggets spurted out to a quick 9-point run highlighted by the following: Raymond Felton three-pointer, Wilson Chandler six-foot bank shot, Kenyon Martin lay-up, and another Martin fading bank shot.
On the other hand, lets take a look at L.A.’s play during that run: Pau Gasol turnover and foul, another Gasol turnover, and consecutive missed 3-pointer by Fisher and Lamar Odom.
Basically everything that could go wrong went wrong. In the most vital and crucial part of the game, L.A. fizzled and Denver rose to the occasion.
Offensively, L.A. was discombobulated. They struggled against Denver’s high-pressured defense and were victims to turnovers and forced 3-point attempts. Kobe Bryant was impatient and threw up a few bad shots.
Defensively, L.A. had no answer for the quicker, younger, and more athletic Nuggets’ offense. The Nuggets (well, really Ty Lawson and Felton) penetrated at will, creating lay-ups for Martin and Nene, or open jump shots for Danilo Gallinari, Chandler and J.R. Smith.
Despite all of their mistakes down the stretch, L.A. still had a chance with 11 seconds remaining, trailing 93-90 with Nene at the free-throw line shooting his second free-throw.
But in a flashback to a Spurs loss at home in early February, Martin shoved Odom in the back and tipped in the game-winning basket, putting Denver ahead 95-90 with 11 seconds left (Odom also gave up the winning lay-up to the Spurs’ Antonio McDyess — box out LO!).
Today, Denver got the best of L.A. They embarrassed them on their home-court. They came in, jabbed a little bit, and then hit them with the knockout punch. Yet was it really Denver’s play that’s to praise, or L.A.’s struggles that’s to blame?
That’s up for speculation.
Gasol had 16 points and 12 rebounds, yet his late turnovers proved to be costly. Odom added 17 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, but struggled from the field (7-for-17). Andrew Bynum had 8 points, 16 rebounds and 2 blocks but unfortunately “injured” his knee with 7 minutes remaining and did not return.
Ron Artest and D-Fish, as usual in most Laker losses, were non-factors offensively. The two combined for 3-for-13 shooting (10 points), 2-for-7 from downtown, and struggled all night.
Other than Odom, the rest of the bench was ineffective yet again. “The Killer B’s” combined to shoot 5-for-10 (11 points), grab 3 rebounds and dish out 4 assists. Their overall +/- was -24.
Last but not least there was Bryant. 28 points on 10-for-27 shooting. 0-for-4 from downtown. 4 rebounds and 4 assists.
In most Laker losses, a few things tend to usually occur. #1. Fisher and/or Artest severely struggle offensively. #2. The bench underperforms (excluding Odom). #3. Kobe falls into “hero” mode, shoots to much, and tries to win the game for L.A. Tonight, all three warning signs happened.
For L.A. to keep playing at their high-level, these three things cannot occur. Fisher and Artest need to hit their open threes (c’mon, you’re wide open!). The bench has to maintain the lead the starters create. And Kobe needs to take a step back and not always be “young Kobe.”
While young teams like Denver, Oklahoma City and Chicago may give the Lakers fits, L.A. has proved their size, poise and experience ultimately prevails in a playoff atmosphere.
Regardless of their faults, L.A. is still a remarkable 17-2 after the All-Star break. They’re still the best team in the NBA. They still have Kobe, Pau, Drew (as along as he’s still healthy), Lamar, Ron-Ron, Fisher and a deep bench.
Unfortunately with a loss and Spurs win earlier today, L.A. (55-21) is now 2.5 games behind the Spurs (58-19). With only 6 games remaining for the Lakers and 5 left for the Spurs, L.A.’s hopes for the one-seed took a decent hit with today’s loss.
Nevertheless, this loss shouldn’t be overanalyzed or overreacted to. It’s one loss. Two losses in 19 games isn’t bad.
The Lakers still know how to win. Today, they just didn’t show it.