Lakers missing Kobe Bryant lately

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
11:56
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- After Steve Blake hit that game-winning 3-pointer in Houston earlier this month, he said the feeling was extra special because, as a career role player, the last shot usually ends up in the hands of a star.

Little did the 11-year veteran know that only eight days later, he would get the chance to play hero again and take a potential tying shot with 12 seconds left against the Memphis Grizzlies from the near-identical spot on the court where he made it against the Rockets.

[+] EnlargeSteve Blake
AP Photo/Jae C. HongSteve Blake missed a potential tying shot late in Friday's game, but the fact he's taking those shots is a reminder that Kobe Bryant is not there to do it.
But this time it fell short and so did the Lakers, losing to Memphis 89-86, dropping their record to 4-7. Four of those losses were the result of coming apart in the fourth quarter.

Not that Blake's 50 percent mark in do-or-die 3s this season is the problem by any means. But seeing Blake out there again as the go-to guy in the clutch was a pretty stark reminder that the Lakers are still missing one of the best, if not the best, closers in the game in Kobe Bryant.

"It's just about playing," Jodie Meeks said of the Lakers' late-game execution. "Kobe is not out there to bail us out there with a fadeaway 30-footer or anything like that, but we have good players on this team and everybody is confident in one another. So, if somebody has got an open shot, we say, 'Shoot it.' "

Without Bryant taking the 20.4 attempts per game he did a season ago, there is a more egalitarian approach to the Lakers' offense. Through L.A.'s first 10 games, the Lakers had nine players averaging between 8.1-13.4 points per game. It has made the Lakers look greater than the sum of their parts a couple of times this season when the energy and hot shooting seemed to become contagious and filter through the entire roster.

But then there are the nights like Friday, when the Lakers found themselves in a dogfight late in the fourth quarter -- with their alpha dog in Bryant still sidelined -- and the lack of a pecking order showed.

"I guess we're going with the hot hand a little bit," Pau Gasol said. "Sometimes that would work, but it would be nice also to get some kind of one, two, three plays we know and we can go through them and then play from there so we can develop on that and build on it."

When Bryant is around, often those three plays are something along the lines of (1) Give it to Mamba, (2) Uncork the Vino and (3) Let No. 24 do his thing, which might not always be the best thing, but at least it keeps everybody on the same page.

"You guys have been watching Kobe do this for years, so you know what he can bring to us, but we can't use that as an excuse," Blake said. "We can't really make the game come down to those moments. If we had done some better things, throughout the game it wouldn't have come down to those situations."

Maybe so.

But then again, this undermanned Lakers team can't exactly expect to be blowing out opponents on a regular basis either. If you look at the first 11 games they've played, that blowout win over the Los Angeles Clippers on opening night is far more the exception than the norm.

Odds are they'll have to fight tooth and nail from tip until the finish to get every win they can while Bryant is out.

"Well, I think it's an issue we don't have Kobe," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "That's an issue, but we have to find a way to score. ... Just little mental errors that we are doing that we don't have that room for."

Maybe those mistakes can be corrected.

"Hopefully the experience of being in those situations and failing a couple times, we can grow from that," Blake said. "See the tape and understand that those are the things that make a huge impact on the game."

But then again, maybe this is all the Lakers can hope to be right now with what they've got.

"We played a hard-nosed game," Gasol said. "We were right there the whole time, and at the end they took a close one. So there's not that much else different that we can do against this team, against any other team. Just play as hard as we could, as we did tonight, and hopefully that will be enough to get a win [moving forward]."

Blake's hope is the Lakers can shore up miscues to win games in the end. Gasol's hope is the Lakers can simply play hard and end up with more wins than losses when it all comes out in the wash.

Both of their hopes would have a better chance of becoming a reality with Bryant around. That is, if Bryant can return to being the player he once was. Hopefully.

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0