Commentary

Lakers just may not have enough

After another rout by the Spurs, there are signs L.A. is not title material

Updated: April 21, 2012, 3:03 AM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

SAN ANTONIO -- If Kobe Bryant had come out with an itchy trigger finger, eager to lock up the scoring title after being out of the lineup for two weeks, and put up a clunker of a shooting effort, as he'd done in previous defeats this season, the Los Angeles Lakers' loss Friday would be easy to explain away.

But that wasn't the case. Not in the slightest.

Bryant was "fresh" by his words and efficient by anyone else's, scoring a game-high 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting in the Lakers' 121-97 blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty ImagesAfter a blowout loss to the Spurs, at least one thing was clear: Kobe Bryant wasn't the problem.

Bryant was not part of the problem.

So how to make sense of the result, when just 10 days ago a Bryant-less Lakers team beat the Spurs by 14, and then had an effective Bryant back in the fold and looked thoroughly outmatched in a season-worst 24-point loss Friday?

What changed?

Well, the confidence in everybody but Bryant, that's what.

Most of the Lake Show was a no-show.

The same bunch who went 5-2 in their star's absence came out with the type of effort that makes you wonder whether they really should be viewed as the parts that make up a championship contender.

Maybe Ramon Sessions isn't the savior at point guard we once thought. Maybe that left shoulder of his is bothering him more than he's letting on. Maybe he's a defensive liability against the super PGs the Lakers could face in the second round, be it the Spurs' Tony Parker or the Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook. Maybe he's not quite ready for prime time having never played in the postseason before in 4 1/2 seasons in Milwaukee, Minnesota and Cleveland.

"He just has to keep gaining the confidence and experience in situations like this," Lakers coach Mike Brown said after Sessions had just five points on 2-for-9 shooting and one assist while Parker went for 20 and 10. "He's going to have to stay aggressive because we need him to be aggressive in order for us to win."

Maybe Brown himself, who had been tooting his own horn of late as the Lakers' offense finally put up triple digits with regularity while their defense began to look settled down, has some sharpening to do himself.

Going into Friday, he had an 8-4 record against mentor Gregg Popovich in the regular season, but he was swept 4-0 in the Finals when he went up against Popovich when it really mattered.

"Just being able to make adjustments on the fly," Bryant said as the area in which the Lakers needed to make the most improvement, still embracing the Coach Kobe role. "That's really what the playoffs are about. It's a game of chess. You have to be able to make adjustments throughout the course of a game and be able to read each other throughout the course of a game."

Maybe Metta World Peace's sudden offensive explosion will go as quickly as it came. Yes, World Peace is undoubtedly in better shape than he was at the beginning of the season, and his hands are still as quick as ever, as evidenced by his three steals Friday, but his hot shooting stroke went cold as he finished 3-for-9 from the field.

Maybe Andrew Bynum will settle for being an offensive threat and not bring the same energy to the defensive end. Bynum had 30 rebounds in the Lakers' win against the Spurs. He had just five boards combined in their next two games against San Antonio, and the Spurs won by a combined 45 points. Maybe he'll let his head take him out of the game the way he did when he had a tantrum on the bench in the second half and was unnoticeable on the court after that point.

"Play hard, play intense or go home," Bynum said. "That's the name of the playoffs. And I think tonight, as a whole, we didn't."

Maybe Pau Gasol, who stepped up so wonderfully when Bryant was out, allowed himself to be too much of a second fiddle even when Kobe was in passive mode. Gasol had 11 points on 4-for-10 shooting Friday, one point fewer than the Spurs' Gary Neal had off the bench.

The Lakers have a show-me-something game lined up for Sunday at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that beat them soundly by an average of 12 points in their first two meetings this season.

"We want to treat each and every one of those games like a playoff game, and tonight it would have been a very bad playoff loss," Gasol said. "So, let's see what we can do and let's see what we're made of on Sunday."

Maybe the Lakers' core that has won two titles together has lost its grip on that championship confidence.

"We did get discouraged," Brown said of their disastrous third quarter in which the Spurs outscored the Lakers 35-21. "San Antonio got us out of our wits a little bit."

Maybe it was a preview of how the Lakers will eventually be out of the playoffs before reaching the ring they desire.

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com