Realistically speaking, a split in the first two games of the road trip felt like a win heading in, and that's what the Lakers have after dropping Saturday's game in Salt Lake City.
Still, after what the Lakers did the night before, they will surely be disappointed with how they performed tonight particularly in the second half. Here are six takeaways...
1. The Lakers have the grit thing down.
AP Photo/Colin E Braley
Mike Brown didn't like the officiating. Lakers fans didn't like the fourth quarter.
Playing on the wrong end of a back-to-back has been rough for teams throughout the NBA this season. Friday night in Denver, the Lakers were the beneficiaries, playing a Denver team that played a night earlier and didn't get back into town until about 4 a.m. Friday. On Saturday, it was the Lakers' turn. They landed in Salt Lake City in the wee hours of the morning, and while they played a strong first half, their legs clearly began to go in the second.
Not an excuse, but it's definitely a factor.
Still, rather than fold up the tent and get ready for Philly, the Lakers continued pushing. They couldn't score much in the third quarter -- 18 points-- but stayed strong defensively and held the Jazz to 20. When Mike Brown's ejection (see below) sparked a big run from the Jazz, the Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant's big burst of offense for the evening, pushed back. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol continued crashing the boards, each earning fourth-quarter putbacks.
They didn't play well for 48 minutes, but they did play hard. When compared to efforts against Miami and Orlando, for example, it's a big improvement, and combined with Friday night's showing against Denver, it's a sign the Lakers are moving in the right direction as a road team.
That had better be the case, because at 3-8 away from home, they don't have any wiggle room.
2. The question of "How many nights of questionable officiating can Brown watch before going ballistic?" has been answered.
While the work from the whistle bearers Saturday didn't approach the shoddy performance of their cohorts Friday night in Denver, the game was still undeniably physical and very intense. So when Gasol appeared to get mugged at the top of the key by Earl Watson, coming from behind on a strong double team to steal the ball while Gasol went to the floor, Brown lost it. As Derrick Favors finished with a dunk at the other end, Brown was already on the court, making his outburst against the Clips during the preaseason look tame by comparison. He had to be restrained by Matt Barnes and Metta World Peace, said some things later requiring the big pixel treatment so the KCAL folks could show the replay without running afoul of the FCC and was -- no shock -- tossed from the game.
Unfortunately, the incident pumped up the Jazz more than the Lakers. Following Brown's ejection, Utah ripped off an 8-0 run, effectively sewing up the game despite a valiant late push by the Lakers.
3. Andrew Goudelock hit a bit of reality, and predictably the bench went south.
As evidenced by the play leading to Brown's early shower, the Jazz pulled a page from Milwaukee's scouting report last week, going heavy on ball pressure. The Lakers were hurt as a group, and Goudelock was the biggest victim. Playing point guard in the first half, he repeatedly found himself struggling to get the ball in position to initiate the offense, and as a result the Lakers repeatedly found themselves on the wrong side of the shot clock. That's not a group that can operate on short time.
In the second half, Brown went to Darius Morris with that group, pushing Goudelock to the 2 while Kobe rested. The rotation, which for one night at least also included Josh McRoberts (likely in response to Troy Murphy's defensive struggles), Brown hoped to keep consistent was juggled, and as a group the rhythm was nonexistent.
With Goudelock held to one field goal and four points, nobody was there to pick up the slack. Matt Barnes finished with five points, and Jason Kapono one. That was it for bench scoring, save a garbage time bucket for Morris. On a night the Jazz produced 47 bench points, the contrast was comically stark.
4. Andrew Bynum again came to play.
Twelve rebounds, two blocks, and 21 points on an efficient 8-for-14 shooting. Like the rest of his teammates, Bynum couldn't convert on some opportunities in the second half, but overall made some nice plays in the post, and built on his outstanding game in Denver.
5. Second-chance points again hurt the Lakers.
The Lakers did good work on the offensive glass, pulling down 16 ORB's and making good use of them. It's a shame most of it was mitigated by the 18 offensive boards the Jazz grabbed on the other end. The Lakers sealed up the defensive glass in Denver, but again sprung a leak Saturday and paid the price. It's a problem for the bigs to solve, but also for the group collectively. Coverages on the perimeter impact rebounding position, as do choices at the other end. Bad shots and turnovers put a defense in scramble mode. It all has to get better.
It's very, very difficult to give a good team so many second and third chances on their floor and expect to win.
6. Utah, led by Raja Bell, did good work on Kobe Bryant.
There aren't many ways to effectively defend Bryant, but the Jazz did what they could. When Kobe managed to get the ball, more often than not Ty Corbin sent the kitchen sink. (Again, ball pressure.) More important, I thought the Jazz did a good job denying him the ball in the first place. They made Bryant work very hard for every inch, and tonight it worked to their advantage.
Bryant finished with 26 points, with six makes on 16 tries and 11 free throws in 12 tries.