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Friday, January 28, 2011
Kings 100, Lakers 95: At the buzzer

By Andy Kamenetzky

The Lakers swore during Thursday's practice nobody was looking ahead to Sunday's showdown with the Celtics. After this debacle, I'm hoping it was the opposite. I'd like to believe everyone wasn't just looking ahead, but actually played while picturing Celtic heads on the bodies of each King. In fact, I pray they all shared a group daydream where K.G. tried to punk Devin Ebanks over nothing in particular. At least that would explain getting outclassed by a bunch of schmoes. Otherwise, the loss is just embarrassing without even some unjustifiable form of justification offered.

I'm not saying Sacto didn't play hard and earn their keep. But man alive, did the Lakers play most of this game entirely disengaged.

The boo birds were active for the first time in a while, and I wouldn't say feathers were ruffled over nothing. Sacto is an awful road team -- although really, they're not very good in any setting -- and should never nab a win on Laker soil. Throw in the fact Boston lost to Phoenix, and this was a wasted chance to gain ground in the race for home court advantage over as many teams as possible.

The Bad
First half defense
Put it this way. The Kings finished the half with a 59.1 percent clip from the field. Bad as that was, I actually smiled, because it was a massive dip from the 70 percent success rate in the first quarter. Ouch-ke! By every standard imaginable, the Laker D left something to be desperately desired.

Rotations weren't crisp, assuming they even took place, which wasn't always the case. Too many shots from the visitors were launched without a credible challenge. The paint was vulnerable. Transition defense was often a sieve, even after possessions where the Kings took the ball out of the Laker basket. Sacto may be young and dumb, but they ain't stupid. Recognizing the Lakers (in particular, Pau Gasol) were often lollygagging while getting back, they wisely put on their track shoes and racked some easy buckets.

During the second half, the lockdown wasn't consistently better, although the woes were just often the result of miscues rather than pure lethargy (see next category).

To be fair, there were instances were the Lakers were punished by bad luck. DeMarcus Cousins hit back-to-back jumpers of the "impossible" variety. Samuel Dalembert, whom you absolutely want taking 10-15 foot jumpers, splashed them left and right. Sometimes, the ball doesn't bounce your way. Mostly, however, the Lakers were too busy dropping said ball without provocation for tough breaks to be considered any sort of factor.

Third quarter turnovers
Eight  in all, to the tune of nine points for the Kings. At times, these were bad passes. At times, dudes simply weren't holding onto the ball. Either way, they hurt. A lot.

Rebounding
Full disclosure, the Kings aren't terrible collecting boards. In particular, they're often quite prolific on the offensive glass, and entered the game second and fourth in the league for total offensive rebounds and offensive rebounding rate. But the Lakers are definitely better, and this rumble took place on their turf. Under these circumstances, getting outrebounded 42-36, with 15 offensive boards surrendered simply isn't acceptable.

Pau Gasol
There are times when a player's impact can't be properly gauged simply by looking at the box score. But save a few high notes down the fourth quarter stretch, feel free to assume what you will from Pau's nine point (four-of-eleven shooting)/eleven rebound (could have been twelve if he didn't duck away from a loose ball)/one assist/four turnover line.

Andrew Bynum/Lamar Odom
I thought both were a little better than Gasol, and during the fourth quarter, LO registered a stronger pulse. But all things being equal, the Laker bigs failed to make much of an impression, especially compared to Cousins, Dalembert and Carl Landry.

Steve Blake's face after running into a Cousins screen
Fortunately, this collision came at the end of the third quarter, allowing the point guard some time to recuperate. Dude got rubbed out with so much force, it bruised my punim.

The Good

Kobe Bryant
By the 3:29 mark in the first quarter, Kobe Bryant had thrown down an uncontested dunk to pass Hakeem Olajuwan for the 8th spot on the NBA All-time scoring list. 366 points behind Elvin Hayes, Kobe appeared on course to pass two birds with one stone, if I may mix metaphors. Bryant exploded for 26 points in the first half, his 10 buckets on 14 tries an impressive hodgepodge of dunks, outside shots and mid-range J's. He also earned six trips to the line. Those opening 24 minutes were absolutely owned by 24.

During the second half, Kobe was less aggressive looking for his shot, but that doesn't mean he wasn't putting a stamp on events. He set up Ron Artest (after yelling at him to clear out and float to the corner) and Steve Blake for crucial third frame triples, then created buckets Shannon Brown and Bynum in the fourth.  There was also a monsterific dunk with Dalembert on his hip in the final minutes to close the gap within six.

Yes, Bryant missed nine shots in the fourth, but many were desperation heaves during scrambled possessions. It would be hard to claim Bryant didn't do his fair share to pull out a W.

Shannon Brown
On a discombobulated night where Kobe mostly received very little help, Shannon was a key factor in trying to make a game of this mess. Eight first half points (four-of-six shooting), plus an assist. From there, YouTube really began to cook. A trio of treys were canned in the second half and four rebounds were snagged, one of which he sprinted past half court to set up a spectacular sequence where Odom spun an over-the-shoulder to Gasol for a dunk. Not surprisingly, this was one of the few times where the crowd was inspired enough to get on its feet.

There was also effort from Brown on the defensive end. In the first half, he challenged Tyreke Evans with the clock running down to force a 24 second violation. In the fourth, he blocked Evans at the rim, helping create a possession where Kobe eventually shot a pair of freebies.

Ummmmmm. That's about it, kids. Ain't much else to get happy over.