There's a scout for the Mavs sitting behind us who agreed that in terms of getting a handle on Dallas' potential playoff opponent- i.e. the occupant of the eight spot- tonight's game allowed him to kill two birds with one stone. Of course, a Lakers victory over the Clippers would have essentially made that a two horse race between LAC and Golden State. And at the end of the third with the Lakers up seven, that looked like a distinct possibility. Unfortunately, they play four quarters in the NBA- which makes sense, since they're quarters- and over the final twelve the Clippers pasted the Lakers 32-17, en route to a ludicrously disappointing 118-110 loss. A drink-inducing-kick-in-the-pants-tick-off-a-lot-of-bloggers 118-110 loss. In the end, they couldn't get the points (Kobe popped up 50 on 17-33, but didn't have a field goal in the last 10:57, and needless to say didn't get much help) or the stops (...shocker) to pull it out. Ugly. Uuuuuuuuuuuugly. Roadkill ugly.
More on the game to come. NOW ADDED BELOW THE JUMP
Things went south very, very quickly. And don't forget, while the Lakers were just crushed in the latter half of the fourth, they allowed a 17 point third quarter lead to get whittled down to seven over the last eight minutes of the third. If they keep their collective feet on the Clippers' collective necks, we're writing a very different postgame wrap. But it was the collapse at the end that drew a lot of attention. "You just can't send a team to the free throw line," Phil Jackson said. The Clips took 30 freebies in the second half, including a dozen in the fourth. Add in the general ineffectiveness against Sam Cassell, Elton Brand, and Corey Maggette, and this is what you get. "They went Brand and small with Thomas, and matchups were difficult for us," he said. I asked him if the inability to match up comes from not having enough solid individual and team defenders on the roster. "There's that, but I think some of it's about our development as a team. Some of it's about not being positioned in defense."
As for Kobe playing all 48, and he asked to stay in. "I think he just felt the defense just could cock itself on him more and more as the game went on. Even though he had a great third quarter- a stupendous game- I said are you ready for a rest? He said, "If I come out, we'll probably be down by ten before I can take a breath." He's probably right." Jackson thinks too many guys are just waiting for bad things to happen. "I told them it was like they were playing behind when they were up by ten. Instead of relaxing in the game, they were kind of waiting for the shoe to drop, and it did."
For Kobe the big issue is defense. "We didn't make good decisions defensively. We have to keep guys off the free throw line. It was the second game where we allowed guys to get into the paint and draw a foul. Maggette shot 24 free throws. We just have to do a better job staying in front of people and keeping them out of the paint. Keeping them off the free throw line. Those are just easy opportunities." Put more simply, "You have to wall up defensively. I can't stress that enough."
As for his energy level, Kobe said he was fine. "I felt fine physically. I didn't feel like my legs were heavy." So what changed? '"What they did was just double-team me and triple-team me. I came across half-court and I was facing a double team. When that happens, we just have to make plays. We have to be aggressive. Just attack them. You have an advantage when that happens, and we didn't make the plays. They did." Mike Dunleavy threw doubles at 24 in the third, too, but Kobe was still hitting shots. In the fourth, he was colder against the extra attention, and this was not a game where the supporting cast stepped up. "They need to just play looser and just be aggressive. Everybody's tentative. It's a big game tonight and everybody's tentative and I sensed that."
Not a lot of folks sticking around to talk after the game. And the ones that did weren't terribly chatty. In part, it's because they had to catch a flight to Phoenix. But in part, it's because nobody was particularly eager to discuss how this team blew it down the stretch yet again.
Take Lamar Odom. Win or lose, LO is typically one of the more accommodating Lakers when it comes to long and detailed responses. Not so much tonight. Then again, when you sum things up so succinctly, there may be no need for profuse yapping. "We can't make plays. We can't keep a lead right now. There's not a team that we can't lose to right now." So how did things slip away so they could lose to this particular one? Like most everyone, LO's shrugging his shoulders, too. "That's the problem. I have no idea. No lead is big enough. That's what I always tell them. Each time we get a big lead, we get a little lazy. Stop doing the small things that it'll take to win a basketball game. When we get in tight games, you gotta be tight all the way around. 1-12. I don't know what's up."
Unfortunately, time's slipping away to figure it out.
Incidentally, Odom suffered a bruised right hand during the first half. They took X-rays during halftime and they came up negative. LO said he's not sure when it happened, but didn't seem too worried about any lingering problems.