The Lakers dropped to 10-6 Thursday night, with an increasingly disturbing 1-5 record on the road tucked inside, as the Miami Heat dominated almost from the start.
Little went right for the Lakers, save what was arguably Pau Gasol's best game of the season. Twenty-six points on 11-for-19 shooting, eight rebounds, two dimes, one block and much more decisive decision-making.
Here are five takeaways …
1. Monday's problems with the offense carried into Thursday.
It took a 27-point fourth quarter to push the Lakers to 73 points Monday night against Dallas. That they managed to win that game was something of a minor miracle. Against a better Heat team, even one missing Dwyane Wade, the shenanigans of a couple days ago just wouldn't work, as demonstrated by their 37 points at the break. Some of it was bad luck -- the Lakers missed a few shots around the bucket they normally make. Guys were cold, too. Together, Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Metta World Peace scored 17 points on 5-for-19 shooting. Only Gasol (13 points) was in double figures, or at 50 percent from the floor among Lakers taking more than one shot.
It didn't get much better in the third (19 points) but by the middle of the quarter, it was basically academic. Overall, the Lakers weren't able to exploit any advantages inside, or create enough off-ball movement to generate better looks around the perimeter. And, once again, they couldn't hit a 3-pointer (6-20, or 30 percent, some of the "explosion" coming in a meaningless fourth quarter), a trend plaguing the Lakers throughout the season, even in games they've won.
2. Kobe's sweet spots are getting a little less sweet.
In the four games prior to Dallas, Bryant had scored 77 of his 172 points inside 10 feet or at the free throw line. Via ESPN Stats and Information, against the Mavs, Bryant had only one FTA, and it came on a technical foul. Three of his 22 shots came from 10 and in. Tonight, Bryant again had trouble getting to the bucket. Through three (meaning the parts when the game was even kind of in question) quarters, Bryant had 12 shots. One bucket from three feet, another from nine, and the rest of his hoists were in that 16-and-beyond range. This, plus four free throws. It's not that Kobe can't hit the midrange jumper -- no guard does it better -- but easier points have to be found in there somewhere.
A couple of things may be happening. Kobe could be tiring out just a little, or opposing teams could be doing better keeping him out of his ideal spots, knowing the Lakers don't have much by way of counters -- i.e., the offensive issues plaguing the Lakers as a group have finally filtered down to Bryant. Or both. In any combination, it's bad news for the Lakers.
3. The Lakers bench has decent component parts, but is missing the parts that could make them effective.
The Lakers arrived in Miami with the lowest scoring bench in the league, and with only 17 points tonight didn't boost that average. Obviously the production isn't there, but the problem isn't necessarily with the personnel they have. Jason Kapono can hit shots. Troy Murphy can hit shots, and is a very willing rebounder. Josh McRoberts is a great player to have around because he'll willingly do all the little stuff a team needs. Crashing the boards, diving for loose balls, helping aggressively on defense. All three are potentially useful, if the Lakers had other skill sets available. Unfortunately, particularly with Steve Blake on the sideline, there's nobody capable of penetrating effectively enough to get Kapono and Murphy clean looks from distance, or a highly skilled player who draws the sort of attention allowing someone like McRoberts, who doesn't create his own offense, to thrive, much like Barnes has playing with the starters.
The Lakers had guys who could help, in Lamar Odom and to a lesser degree, Shannon Brown. The issue isn't necessarily that they let them go, but that they didn't replace them.
The supposed "best" player on the bench, Metta World Peace, has increasingly shown himself useful at one thing -- scoring in the post. His outside shooting has been awful, and the facilitating has slipped. Basically, it's to a point where his good plays are the ones people notice, because they're the exception to the rule. That's never a good sign.
Blake's injury hurts (no pun intended), as well. Which brings me to …
4. It's unfair to expect Darius Morris to contribute at this level.
He's a barely-21-year-old kid drafted in the second round who should be playing in Ann Arbor right now, not getting significant minutes for a team still talking in terms of championship aspirations. This puts more pressure on Derek Fisher, who can't be counted on at this point on a night-in, night-out basis. Not at 30 minutes a night, like he played Thursday.
In all, L.A.'s PGs finished 1-of-8, for two points, plus two assists and three turnovers. Not gonna work.
5. Why were the starters in down the stretch?
I realize the Lakers get virtually no practice time, so Mike Brown has to use games as his laboratory … but if ever there were a game to go full Popovich and sit the starters down, this was it. There was absolutely no way the Lakers were going to make up the gap, and I don't think full-speed practice against an amped Miami team was going to help iron out the offensive kinks. Meanwhile, there's another game tomorrow, and another following on Sunday, both against playoff-caliber teams.
Sit. Them. Down. What was gained in the fourth, other than a slightly tighter score?