Sunday, January 2, 2011
Updated: January 3, 2:07 PM ET
New year, same problems for L.A.
By Dave McMenamin
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers played their first game of 2011 on Sunday and the result, a 104-85 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, was much the same as things had been before the ball dropped in Times Square.
Against Memphis, the Lakers dropped the ball in many ways. They coughed up 20 turnovers that led to 18 points for the Grizzlies, were outrebounded 44-37 and were outscored 50-36 in the paint, 28-5 in fast-break points and 13-10 on second-chance points.
It was the fourth loss in the Lakers' past six games, the third loss in their past four home games and their fourth loss in a row by 15 points or more.
It was so bad that head coach Phil Jackson pulled his rotation players with 4:36 remaining in the fourth quarter and his team down by 21 points, the basketball equivalent of waving the white flag by clearing the bench.
Kobe Bryant had 17 of his game-high 28 points in the third quarter, but he took 12 of the Lakers' 22 total shots in the period in doing so. In the process, Memphis increased its lead from nine at halftime to 17 headed into the fourth.
"We get behind early on in the third quarter on some stupid plays -- poor passing, poor transition defense -- and then Kobe has to screw up the game and start energizing the team by going one-on-one and that takes the rest of the guys out as a consequence," Jackson said. "That didn't bring us back in, but it did give us a little run, we got the game back a little bit but we couldn't sustain it and we just went right back and made the same mistakes again."
Jackson's comments about Bryant came on the heels of him pointing out that Pau Gasol, a three-time All-Star, had only 10 points on nine shot attempts for the game.
"The game got to a point where we didn't use our strengths which is our inside players," Jackson said. "When we started off the game I think Pau got six out of our eight points and didn't score again in the first half. He ended up the game with 10. He got four more points in the second half. He's too good a player for a game like that."
The first seven losses of the season were by a combined 36 points, all but one coming by a single-digit margin. The past four have come by a combined 69 points, not one a winnable game in the final minutes.
Bryant reamed the team's effort after the Christmas Day debacle against the Miami Heat, when the Lakers lost 96-80 on their home court to the revamped Big Three.
What followed was another shellacking, this at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday.
The whole team got together to talk it out Wednesday in New Orleans, opting for a team meeting in lieu of a shootaround on the second day of a back-to-back and the get-together showed an immediate impact as the Lakers beat the Hornets 103-88.
They won again versus Philadelphia on Friday, but were outscored in the second half and let the Sixers tie the game late in the fourth quarter after leading by as many as 14 in the third.
After the loss to San Antonio, when Gasol finished with a similarly suspect line of nine points on eight shots, he said the team was "not being smart." In that game Bryant shot 8-of-27 from the field, at one point missing a career-worst 13 shot attempts in a row.
"Coaches are giving us a game plan and we're not executing it very well," Gasol said Sunday.
Andrew Bynum was the most vocal Lakers player after Los Angeles lost for the first time in three games since he returned to the starting lineup against New Orleans.
"We're not really playing for each other right now," Bynum said. "We're not playing to set the next man up and consequently that's definitely causing us problems on defense."
Bynum was asked what the Lakers could do to correct their current deficiencies.
"Maybe [we should] start having consequences if you're not out there playing hard or you're not out there running the offense and doing what you're supposed to do," Bynum said. "Right now guys are kind of comfortable and not really getting into the sets that we need to be in.
"Right now we got to be concerned, we have to be ... Good teams are looking at us like, 'Oh, they're soft.' We're letting everybody come in and get comfortable."
The Staples Center crowd shared its disapproval, showering the court with loud boos during several breaks in play in the second half. There was even a scant "Re-Fund! Re-Fund!" chant in the fourth quarter.
"When we're playing that bad we deserve to be booed," Matt Barnes said.
The Lakers continue with a home-road back-to-back starting Tuesday against Detroit and ending Wednesday in Phoenix.
"We can't beat anybody right now, so whoever we're playing, we'll take it," Bryant said of the 11-22 Pistons. "I think we're looking too far down the road instead of looking at just the game that's right in front of you."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.