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Monday, February 14, 2011
Bobcats 109, Lakers 89 -- At the buzzer

By Brian Kamenetzky


AP Photo/Bob Levarone
A 20-point loss to the Bobcats means those frowns will stay right side up, thank you very much.

I give you the totality of Phil Jackson's postgame news conference. If you want to call it that...

"I just have this to say: I'm very disappointed in our performance tonight. I'm embarrassed about what we did. That's it."

Hard to beat that both for brevity and accuracy, as the team's struggles in Charlotte continue. Here's how it broke down ...

Lowlights:

1. First-Half Turnovers. The Lakers actually did a decent job defensively against Charlotte over the first two quarters, limiting the Bobcats to just over 41 percent from the floor. Stephen Jackson was limited to a very quiet seven points on 2-for-8 shooting from the floor. But while the Bobcats couldn't score in the half court very effectively, they didn't always have to. The Lakers generously chipped in with eight turnovers, leading to 13 points for the home team. Four came from Kobe Bryant, who too frequently left the floor without a clear plan. He was actually lucky not to earn a couple more.

Credit the Bobcats for some aggressive D if you'd like, but most of the wounds were self-inflicted. Charlotte is hardly one of the more noted ball-hawking teams in the league, with an opponents' turnover rate near the bottom of the league. The Lakers simply didn't take good enough care of the ball.

2. Kobe Bryant. To be fair, he was fighting flu-like symptoms (or as some call it, flu), bad enough to miss the morning shootaround. My guess is most of us would have just called in sick. To his credit, Kobe played ... but he didn't play well. I mentioned the four turnovers, but after making two of his first three shots he proceeded to miss 10 of his next 13. Similar to what went down in Orlando Sunday afternoon, Kobe looked dead-legged, struggling to get to the paint, and leaving many of his jumpers short. Particularly telling was another three quarters without a free throw. He didn't shoot any against Orlando, and against the Knicks didn't make it to the stripe for any freebies (non-technical variety) in the second half. (Keep in mind, L.A. didn't need him in the fourth at the Garden.)

He finally broke the streak tonight in the fourth quarter.

Defensively, Bryant struggled at times against the quickness of Gerald Henderson, and twice picked up fouls trying to go through screens to contest jumpers. He wasn't the only laggard on that side of the ball, particularly as the game went on, but his legs didn't seem there.

Bryant hit his first jumper of the fourth, then a few more, but by then the game was out of hand. He'd finish with 20 points on 8-of-20 from the floor, two assists and five turnovers. I'm sure he'll add some Theraflu to his normal postgame treatment, and hopefully will feel better against the Cavs Wednesday night.

3. Shooting. As a team, the Lakers entered Monday's action (as it were) shooting a hair over 30 percent from downtown. Not a robust figure by any stretch, and they certainly didn't improve on the mark tonight. Kobe knocked down a second-quarter 3, and the Lakers didn't hit another until the 5:20 mark of the fourth, when Lamar Odom hit one to cut the deficit from Absurd! to merely Embarrassing! As a team, the Lakers missed 16 of their 19 hoists from beyond the arc, continuing to construct the house of bricks they started against the Magic Sunday afternoon. All told, the Lakers have hit a grand total of five 3s over the last two games, on 35 tries (14.3 percent).

As I noted in the newest edition of the Triangle, this is a problem that hurt the Lakers last season as well, and things still turned out well, but there's a certain level at which the Lakers need to convert from the perimeter if they're going to be a high-level offensive team. I'm no hoops scientist, nor have I scoured the depths of roundball history in search of that magic number, but I'll go out on a limb and say it's north of 14.3 percent.

L.A. isn't going to be a great 3-point shooting team, and shouldn't try ... but the Lakers do need to be better than they are, or teams will pack the middle so tight that triples are the only open shots the Lakers will see. Chalk some of this up to road-weary legs -- it's legitimate at this point of a seven-game trip, and the fourth game in five days. When fatigue sets in, the first thing generally leaving through the side door is shooting touch. Still, the problem is larger than simply the road trip. The Lakers aren't a good deep perimeter shooting team, from Kobe on down.

Kent Smith/NBAE/Getty Images
Kobe Bryant drew a crowd Monday night, and struggled through three quarters against the Bobcats.



3. The Third Quarter. For all the sluggishness of the first half, had the Lakers repeated the same effort without handing the ball to Charlotte as frequently, they may very well have won the game. Instead, the offense went into the tank -- 17 points -- and in the process fell apart at the other end, too. Charlotte was able to take advantage of consistent opportunities to rebound and push, not necessarily beating the Lakers down the floor in transition but putting them on their heels. The Bobcats would rack up 29 points, pushing a six-point lead to 18.

Some of the team's problems defensively can be chalked up to a simple lack of hustle. More than once, Charlotte beat the Lakers down the floor in transition. But their inability to score consistently, to slow teams down by making them take the ball out of the basket, is also a problem. I'm confident they'll come through Wednesday against Cleveland, and coming out of the break more consistency on that end is required. They had it at the start of the trip, and just need to find it again.

Keep in mind, the Lakers are still looking at a 5-2 trip, which given the competition they've faced is more than respectable.

4. Shannon Brown. His struggles continue: 2-for-9, for four points. With Matt Barnes out, Brown is the primary source of wing/backcourt offense from the Lakers' bench. Without question, Brown needs more help from Steve Blake, who took only three shots in 22 minutes, missed all of them, and while he had four assists also turned the ball over twice, but Shannon's level currently isn't high enough on a consistent basis.

Add in what amounted to 12 minutes of fourth-quarter garbage time, and the Bobcats generated 60 points in the second half, making 23 of 36 shots to put their percentage for the game over 50 percent. No small feat considering how they started.

The bench generally was pretty quiet. Nine points for Odom, with only four rebounds, and little production from the other guys until Jackson emptied the bench down the stretch.

Highlights:

1. Pau Gasol. He struggled as much as the rest of the team defensively, particularly as the game went on, but overall if there was a strong performance from L.A. tonight, he delivered it. He made some strong moves inside against Boris Diaw, hit a few jumpers, and moved the ball well, particularly in the first half. He hit 6 of 9 shots for 17 points, had 10 boards, and 5 assists. If there's a telling stat, it's that he finished the first half with seven shots, and managed only two the rest of the way.

2. Free Throws. 16-for-20. That's nice, given their poor showing at the line Sunday afternoon. But the Lakers need to get there more frequently early in games. None in the first quarter, to go with zero triples, as well. No 3s combined with no FTs help explain why the Lakers scored only 22 points despite shooting over 50 percent from the floor.

Gotta get one or the other.

3. Rebounding. They won the battle of the boards 42-37, despite giving themselves virtually no opportunities to grab them in the second half, because Charlotte never missed.