Sunday, April 17, 2011
These Lakers aren't strangers to upsets
By Dave McMenamin ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- While there seems to be no reasonable explanation for the Los Angeles Lakers' lackadaisical 109-100 loss to the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday, the outcome almost makes sense because logic doesn't really apply when assessing the state of these Lakers.
One would think with three full days since their regular-season finale, the Lakers would have an abundance of two things for sure: energy and focus that comes from plenty of preparation time.
They didn't have either.
The Hornets attacked, and the Lakers didn't have an answer.
They let New Orleans -- which had 11 fewer wins than L.A. did in the regular season and was also missing its leading scorer in David West -- come into Staples Center and swipe away the home-court advantage for this first-round series the Lakers spent all season working for.
"We're not stunned by it," Bryant said. "We're not shocked by it. We've been here before. Whether you lose Game 1 or Game 2, you still wind up having to split, which is important for us to do."
Just two years ago the Lakers opened a playoff series against a lower seed on their home court and squandered away Game 1 when they dropped the first game of the conference semifinals against Houston, 100-92.
This is their M.O, their identity.
"That's been happening the whole year," said Lamar Odom. "Losing a game to a team you're supposed to beat."
It started all the way back in the preseason in London when they lost to the lowly Timberwolves and then in Spain when they got beat by FC Barcelona, Pau Gasol's former club team. Some guy with two first names, Pete Mickael, outdueled Gasol in his homecoming and the defending champs lost their first two games.
There were plenty of perplexing losses to follow -- most notably falling to Milwaukee, Memphis and Sacramento on their home court along with a loss in Cleveland after they beat the Cavs by 55 the first time they played them.
The Hornets scouted the Lakers perfectly, knowing L.A.'s weakness when it comes to transition defense, and forced 13 turnovers leading to 17 points.
They knew they were giving up size against the Lakers' 7-footers in Gasol and Andrew Bynum, and the 6-10 Lamar Odom, but they attacked them anyway instead of staying out on the perimeter to "cast away" jumpers, as New Orleans coach Monty Williams said.
Chris Paul's masterful line of 33 points, 14 assists, seven rebounds and four steals might seem like the reason the Hornets won, but their 52-34 lead in points in the paint over the supposedly too-tall-to-contend-with Lakers had just as big of an impact.
And while the Hornets "studied" the Lakers intently before the series, as Odom put it, the Lakers, well
"We didn't do coverages defensively that we were supposed to do," Bryant said. "We just didn't do them. I don't know if we forgot about them or lack of effort to execute but we didn't stick to our game plan. So, it's not really about us making adjustments, it's about doing what we say we're going to do in the first place."
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Williams surmised, "Maybe they had an off night," to try to justify the discrepancy in points around the rim that his short guys were able to pull off against the Lakers' tall guys.
"Off nights" are much more infrequent than "on" ones for L.A., but they happen to this team.
Gasol, a four-time All-Star who averaged 18.8 points this season, is a perfect example of that as he had five games during the regular season when he scored fewer than 10 points. The Lakers went 1-4.
He had just eight points Sunday on 2-for-9 shooting, an especially disappointing effort on the day that his brother, Marc Gasol, led Memphis to the first playoff win in Grizzlies history by going off for 24 points on 9-for-10 shooting in an upset against the San Antonio Spurs. But the aberration in Pau's production will be corrected if the Lakers' recent history serves as any guide.
"Pau is our guy," Bryant said. "He's the next in line in terms of responsibility and the pressure that comes along with that. He'll be ready to go next game.
"I think this game here, he's going to use that as motivation coming back in Game 2 and be ready to go. No doubt about it."
After beating the Hornets 4-0 during the regular season, there was talk of the Lakers doubling that to making it eight straight wins with a series sweep.
Now? The Lakers are looking at the potential result if their "off" side shows up more than their "on."
"It's dangerous," Bryant said. "Absolutely, this series can be over quick."
Things can change overnight in Lakers Land, when a series' complexion can go from a favorite's sweep to an underdog's upset.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.