Lakers' 98-83 loss to Charlotte Bobcats latest example of poor effort
After another night of the Lakers displaying poor offensive chemistry, poor defense and a poor effort, Coach Phil Jackson stood among the traveling media to discuss the Lakers' 98-83 loss Friday to the Charlotte Bobcats. There he was met with a question that the Lakers better answer quickly as the postseason is soon approaching.
"We're about five weeks from the playoffs," a reporter said to Jackson. "Is this a late time in the season to still be going through what this team is going through right now?"
Jackson paused and then went into the team's itinerary. The Lakers were fresh off a disappointing 114-111 overtime loss Thursday to the Miami Heat and didn't arrive in Charlotte until Friday at 4 a.m. He suggested to reporters they should know how travel contributes to the daily grind. "There's a certain element that takes place here where you have to have energy to play the game," Jackson said. "And we didn't have it."
Surely, no one can downplay that factor. But that's a symptom of the problem, not the reason for it. The Lakers knew well before the beginning of the season that November and December featured a home-heavy schedule, something that would ultimately catch up to them at this point. The Lakers (46-17) already lost two games of a three-game trip, which ends Sunday against Orlando (42-20), the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. They're then on the road for eight of the remaining 11 games in March.
Against Charlotte (29-31), the Lakers proved they hadn't properly prepared for the trip.
The Lakers allowed the Bobcats to feature five players to reach double figures, shoot at 51.4% clip and score 18 fast-break points. The Lakers committed 20 turnovers, which led to 12 points on the other end. And the only highlight on offense featured Kobe Bryant essentially passing to himself by throwing the ball off the backboard and catching the rebound for a layup, reducing the Bobcats' lead to 45-41 with 1:20 remaining in the second quarter. The Lakers featured no starter shooting above 50%. Bryant had a team-leading 26 points, but his poor shooting came back with a nine of 21 clip. Andrew Bynum had 14 points on three of nine shooting, with eight of those points happening in the first quarter. And Pau Gasol had 11 points on five of 14 shooting, marking the third time in the past four games he has shot below 50%.
Some may point to the litany of injuries the Lakers seem to always have. The Times' Mike Bresnahan recently noted Bryant has a fractured right index finger, Shannon Brown recently sprained his right thumb. Jordan Farmar has a sprained ligament in his left hand, while Lamar Odom and Ron Artest also have a finger injury. Then don't forget the absence of Sasha Vujacic (right shoulder) and Luke Walton (pinched nerve in lower back).
But that really shouldn't be a factor. It certainly didn't stop former Lakers Bryon Scott, a guest analyst on KCAL-9, from publicly questioning the team's mental toughness. That lapse resulted in the Lakers allowing Charlotte to open the second half with an 8-0 run, the Lakers holding a double-digit deficit for most of the fourth quarter and dropping to the Bobcats for the seventh time in the last nine games.
As a result, the Lakers (46-17) hold a four-game edge over Dallas (42-21) and a four-and-a-half game lead over Denver (41-21) for the top spot in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, Cleveland (49-14) still maintains the league's best effort.
This game isn't the first time the Lakers went through such sluggishness They had an eight-game trip in January, which resulted in a sub-par 5-3 effort. And they've had an uneven record at home (29-5) and on the road (17-11), something the Lakers should probably sharpen for the playoffs. Case in point, the Lakers past four championships featured solid road records, including 1999-2000 team (31-10), 2000-2001 team (25-16), 2001-2002 team (24-17) and 2008-09 (29-12). And that 2003-04 team that fell apart in the NBA Finals to Detroit? They had a 22-19 road record. The only exception points to the 2007-08 team that got embarrassed in the Finals to the Boston Celtics. They went 27-14 on the road.
But consider how each of those teams put together large chunk of wins to close out the last two months of the regular season: 99-00 (20-4), 00-01 (18-7), 01-02 (18-7) and 08-09 (17-5). The Lakers are just beginning the March slate of games with a 1-2 record, but they are far from playing their best basketball. The Lakers are 4-3 since Bryant returned to the lineup from a sprained left ankle not necessarily because of him individually but because the team isn't jelling the same way it did during his absence. Even in the team's four wins during Bryant's return, none of them were good efforts. The Lakers needed Bryant to score a game-winner against Memphis. They did just enough to get by Philadelphia. They suddenly woke up against Denver. They eventually decided to try against Indiana.
Surely, the aforementioned statistics don't completely tell the complete picture. Even though the Lakers had won three consecutive games entering the trip, those wins did very little because they didn't show the Lakers developing in any way.
And for those who cling to the notion that this loss had much more to do with the lacking energy level from a back-to-back, then consider why that excuse shouldn't fly. The Lakers were fatigued because they went through the motions against Miami and then forced overtime. If the Lakers continue to go through the motions the rest of the regular season, they'll expend all their effort trying to develop team chemistry during the postseason. But that approach won't work in the long run because there won't be enough energy needed to actually just concentrate on winning the game and the series.
Photo: Charlotte point guard Raymond Felton gets past Lakers point guard Derek Fisher for a shot down the middle of the lane in the first half Friday night. Credit: Jeff Siner/McClatchy-Tribune.
Photo: Bobcats guard Stephen Jackson tries to spin away from the steal attempt of Lakers guard Kobe Bryant in the first half Friday night. Credit: Jeff Siner/McClatchy-Tribune.