"These guys just don't want to play hard right now," Phil Jackson said after the game.
Really? Couldn't tell.
The streak now sits at four, and with the loss the Lakers slip behind Miami on the playoff ladder- both teams have 24 losses, but the Heat hold the tiebreaker- and erase the benefits of Thursday's beatdown of the Celtics by Chicago. (Boston also has 24 losses, though need to finish ahead of L.A. to earn home court in a potential Finals matchup.) In a lot of ways, I feel tonight like I could simply re-post pieces of the last three breakdowns, but I'm contractually obligated to produce fresh material after each game. Here's how it broke down...
1. Transition Defense. It'll happen periodically. Someone takes an awkward shot, maybe a player crashes the glass unexpectedly, or perhaps the opposition simply catches a team buy surprise in how fast they get the ball up the floor. Once? Twice? These are things you can live with. But by the fifth or sixth time, patience melts away. By the eighth or ninth time, fans start throwing remotes through their flatscreens. Or taking the flatscreen from the living room and throwing it through the one in the bedroom.
Portland pushed pace off Lakers mistakes, off missed shots, and even after makes (when they happened). At some point, the Lakers needed to understand and adjust. For a while, the failings could be chalked up to simple laziness, or turnovers. Then confusion. But when the league's slowest paced team pumps out 20 fast break points through three quarters, it's an indication things have gone... awry.
Contrary to at least some elements of popular opinion, apathy isn't the reason for every Lakers loss. They can care and still play poorly, like every other team in any other sport. But sometimes, it's pretty clear they're not invested in a game. Tonight was such a game.
2. General Attentiveness. To steal a joke from our man Dave McMenamin: Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk.
I could keep going, but the goal here isn't to reproduce literature from The Shining.
3. Offense. I fully understand "defense wins championships," but there's a minimum amount of work required on the other side of the ball, right? The type not exactly fulfilled by scoring three points over the first 8:40 of the third quarter? Or 62 points through three quarters? (Though maybe complaints are out of line, because it beats the 55 through three against Golden State, or the 57 posted heading into the fourth against Utah. Baby steps.) As it has been over the length of the now four-game losing streak, turnovers were a problem, particularly early. 10 of them, leading to 11 points for the Blazers. The Lakers would finish with 17.
As we've noted, it's not simply a question of the points given up at the other end, but 17 turnovers means 17 fewer chances to score.
As a team, the Lakers shot under 40 percent. Kobe Bryant led the way with 24 points (on 10-for-25 from the floor), nine of which came in an 86 second stretch just before halftime. Pau Gasol missed seven-of-11 shots, marring a strong night on the offensive glass (seven ORB's) with an inability to capitalize. Ron Artest spent most of the first half launching shots putting Portland in great shape to run in transition, finishing with 10 misses in 14 hoists. Against an undersized team- any team, really, Artest should never have more shots (14) than Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined (13).
Bad as the Lakers were defensively- and this was the worst of the four games in the streak- the one place they've been consistently poor over the losing streak is on offense. I can't remember a time when as a group they struggled to get shots off before the end of the clock, or entered their sets so slowly. While not a running team, they're usually very efficient in the half court. Not Friday night.
It says something about their performance when, fueled by 21 offensive rebounds, the Lakers had nine more field goal attempts than Portland, and still lost by, if you toss out a meaningless Derek Fisher triple at the buzzer, double digits.
4. Shannon Brown. He was lucky once or twice, one example coming in the third quarter when he unwisely tried to go coast to coast on the break, only to miss the layup (fortunately, Matt Barnes- who Brown should have hit with a pass on the wing- was there to clean up). Brown once again spent much of his night out of control. When he caught and shot in rhythm, good things happened. When he didn't, or actively tried to create his own shot, the results were much worse.
5. Free Throws. Again, the Lakers didn't take advantage of those free points. They only reached the line 14 times, making seven. Not. Good.
6. Andrew Bynum. Playing through stomach flu, and he deserves credit for that. But he wasn't very good. Six fouls, six rebounds, three points.
7. Ugly Numbers. Anyone else remember a time Kobe was -24, easily "leading" the team?
1. Lamar Odom. He wasn't perfect by any stretch- witness the four turnovers- but Odom put up some numbers, and seemed to be working for most of the game. 13 points, 14 rebounds, a steal, a block, and three dimes. On a night filled with lowlights, Odom had some strong moments.
2. Matt Barnes. He moved, which is much more than can be said for most of his teammates. Seven points, three boards, two coming on the offensive end.