Saturday, December 26, 2009
Christmas Day loss: Thoughts are shared
By Andy Kamenetzky
I can easily imagine what y'all thought in reaction to the 102-87 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers -- but probably can't print it. But here are some reactions that are "safe for work," as the parlance goes.
As I noted in my postgame analysis, the bad qualities exhibited during this loss were of a "laundry list" variety, but the one that grabbed my attention most was the Lakers' inability to remain composed as things went sideways. It reminded me of the 2008 version of the Lakers, a very good team nonetheless vulnerable to letting the refs get inside their melons. This observation wasn't lost on the O.C. Register's Kevin Ding, either:.
On the holiday road, at least, the Cavaliers had far greater maturity than the champs, who we should remember also had an annoying habit two years ago of whining to the refs instead of making their own justice. "You make your own way in this game, usually," Phil Jackson said after this loss. How is that way made? "Determined play and outright work," Jackson said, "and things start changing in your favor."The Lakers on Christmas instead took the viewpoint that the refs were being Scrooges. And so before anyone could yell, "Bah! Humbug!" there were Kobe foam puppet-finger souvenirs falling to the court in protest (Kobe said at least it was good that the giveaways were foam and wouldn't hurt upon landing on anyone) and the Lakers had been humbled. And it's important that they are humbled instead of strutting past this defeat, which brought them back to a 2007-08 place they should be vowing never to revisit.
By the time the Lakers showed something resembling fire, it was too late. They were down and out when they finally displayed some genuine passion, and it was simply misdirected anger over a series of calls that didn't go their way. The Lakers finished with five technical fouls, including one for delay of game after Lamar Odom drew his second technical and was ejected with 4 minutes, 4 seconds remaining. Lakers coach Phil Jackson took too long to put a replacement for Odom into the game.A few fans in the crowd, having grown frustrated by the Lakers' poor play and the technical fouls, hurled their promotional foam fingers onto the court. The game was delayed for a few minutes while the fingers were collected. When play resumed, nothing changed. Cleveland coasted to an easy victory, ending the Lakers' five-game winning streak. The Lakers' loss was their fifth in 28 games this season, and only their second in their past 18.
The Lakers didn't play with the composure of a been-there, done-that champion. Does this team just not remember what it is like to be tested? Was this the Lakers reverting back to the Jekyll & Hyde squad we saw against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference semifinals this past spring? "We have five losses," Phil Jackson said, presumably hoping to remind everybody that that number still looks pretty minuscule against the Lakers' league-leading 23 wins. But it was the kind of loss that makes you rethink all those previous victories. The Lakers are 6-5 on the season against teams that had better than .500 records as of Dec. 25. What's more troubling is that when L.A. has lost this season, it has played so poorly that it might as well not even have showed up for the game. The Lakers' average margin of defeat sits at 14.6 when you add Friday's 15-point game to losses to the Utah Jazz by eight, to Houston by 10, to the Denver Nuggets by 26 and to the Dallas Mavericks by 14.L.A. could rationalize the other losses. It didn't have Pau Gasol in the lineup for three of them; Kobe had the flu against Utah; two of those came on the second night of a back-to-back; the Nuggets, Jazz and Rockets had revenge on their minds after losing to the Lakers in the playoffs… But what excuses can the Lakers make after this one? They were rested. Everybody was healthy (as healthy as they're going to be, at least; Bryant is going to have to play with the fractured finger). They were at home. "I have to chew on this game for a while before I tell you guys what I feel about it," Jackson said at the start of his postgame news conference.
I'm not normally one to make a big deal about the result of a basketball game, especially a regular season game. But today's performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers has me legitimately concerned about the Lakers this season. As Dex mentioned right after the game, the offensive performance was bad enough that it can no longer be ignored. It's not something that we can write off as "offense just not clicking" or "an off night shooting the ball". When was the last time the Lakers had an "on" night? When was the last time everything clicked? But, after today's debacle in Staples Center, I had a thought much more concerning to me than whether or not the Lakers can get things figured out on the offensive end. The Lakers are still tied for the best record in the NBA so far this season. Their Strength of Schedule is as good as any other top flight team, so they haven't been just running things up on scrubs. They've had a lot of home games, but it's not like they've struggled on the road. But my concern is this: We are 1/3 of the way through the season, and the Lakers have yet to rack up a signature win.
The game doesn't really provide "pause" for me. There's a long way to go, and good teams will inevitably play badly. This team wasn't "exposed" on some level, in my opinion. They obviously played horribly, but remain the team to beat, even in a media world where the definitive "meaning" and "significance" are sought after every win or loss. It's a viewpoint shared by Forum Blue and Gold's Kurt Helin:
I don’t care about the one game. One game in December will not matter five and six months from now, when the games do matter. What I want to see is how they respond to this loss the next couple of weeks. Does it shake their confidence or to do they shake it off? This is the biggest test so far this season. Let’s see if they respond like real champions, the kind that repeats.
Of course, that doesn't mean issues surfacing or lingering should be ignored. In particular, the bench, which I'm starting to wonder is a legitimate matter of concern. For a while, I've noted how there was too much hysteria over "the reserves blowing leads," when in reality, that was often the result of letting the third string play against a mix of first and second unit opposition. When Odom, Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar, the "for all intents and purposes" Lakers "bench" played with another pair of starters, they were typically fine. These days, however, they, along with Andrew Bynum, have been unreliable and The Daily News' Vincent Bonsignorewonders if it's catching up to the Lakers:
The bottom line has been so good for the Lakers this season that trouble spots have conveniently been swept under the rug. If there was a downside to winning 23 of their first 27 games, it's that weaknesses were too easily dismissed as no big deal.
Not anymore. Not after the Cleveland Cavaliers stormed into Staples Center and exposed some serious flaws in the Lakers on Friday.
For weeks now, Andrew Bynum has been sleepwalking and the bench has been nonexistent, and though neither was entirely to blame for the 102-87 Christmas Day beatdown, their soft performances can't be glossed over. "They played harder than we did," Kobe Bryant said. "It's as simple as that."Bryant was talking about the overall team, but Bynum and the bench deserve most of the blame. Neither was anywhere to be found Friday.
Amid three hours of MVP debates, statistical comparisons and holiday-themed puppet commercials, there was one subtle detail that seemed to escape the NBA's marketing machine during Friday's broadcast. The man who actually guarded LeBron James almost every possession was not Kobe Bryant but Ron Artest. In his first matchup against James since the Lakers acquired him to defend the NBA's bigger small forwards, Artest had mixed results. He mostly lived up to his reputation as one of the league's top one-on-one defenders on the perimeter but surrendered a handful of easy buckets when James shook free via off-ball screens or backdoor cuts. Artest fouled out with 5:01 left when he double-teamed Anderson Varejao after an offensive board underneath the basket. James finished with 26 points on 9-for-19 shooting and nine assists, hardly his flashiest performance but enough to leave his mark on the game.