Lakers' Kobe Bryant attributes luck, others credit talent for team going two years without a three-game losing streak
It had been a statistic the Lakers didn't particularly attach much significance to, other than confirming their own dominance. It was also something that was often regurgitated when mentioning the impact Lakers forward Pau Gasol had on the team since the Lakers acquired him Feb. 2008 in a trade from Memphis. That milestone involved the Lakers managing to avoid a three-game losing streak for just over two years, a feat that the Lakers snapped Sunday in a 96-94 loss to Orlando, capping off a winless three-game trip.
So it was only fitting to get a read on what enabled the Lakers (46-18) to bounce back so quickly after consecutive losses.
"A lot of luck," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. "I mean if my toe wasn't on the line, we might have won that game."
Bryant's statement referred to the shot he made with 12.9 seconds to play against Orlando. Referees initially signaled it a three-pointer, but replays showed Bryant's foot was on the line. That turned a tie score into a 95-94 Lakers deficit. His 20-foot shot with 1.2 seconds remaining fell short, capping the third game of the season Bryant's game winner didn't go in. That's not really an indictment on Bryant considering his six-game winners this season. Nonetheless, a potential game winner also fell short Jan. 24 in a 106-105 loss to Toronto, which visits the Lakers tonight at Staples Center. If a similar scenario plays out Tuesday, it would mark the first time since April 2007 that the Lakers would lose four consecutive games.
Though it's been well understood the Lakers' winless three-game trip left a lot to be desired, two of their losses were really decided by one basket. Had Bryant's potential game-winning shots gone in against Miami and Orlando, the Lakers certainly would be singing a different tune. The Lakers' litany of issues would still remain, but there'd likely not be as much conversation regarding their offensive lapses, though that still would be a legitimate concern even if Bryant's shots had been successful.
That's why to some degree, the streak should be scrutinized carefully. Ball Don't Lie's Kelly Dwyer wrote this really wasn't much of a streak for the Lakers to celebrate, noting, "So, clearly, this is the three-game losing streak that isn't. Or, probably, it's the three-game losing streak that really doesn't mean a whole hell of a lot. There wasn't anything the Lakers were doing in this streak that they haven't been doing all season. For better and for worse." ESPN Los Angeles' Andy Kamenetzky seconds that notion saying, "The 'Pau era' streak met its end not because the Lakers suddenly became more vulnerable, but rather because they could no longer outrun mounting, unsolved issues."
That was certainly the case during the 2007-2008 season, where the Lakers rebounded from consecutive losses into single digit wins March 18 against Dallas (102-100), March 30 against Washington (126-120 in overtime), showing the margin of defeat and victory is often highly disproportional to the outcome's significance. Those results played out in similar fashion in the playoffs with victories in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals against Utah (111-104) and Game 3 of the NBA Finals against Boston (87-81).
But this streak wasn't just a case study in how the Lakers closed out games. There were also several incidents showcasing the Lakers responding in dominating fashion to avoid a third consecutive loss.
On Jan. 10, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson stood among the gathered media and spoke about the team's two-game losing streak to the Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers. Fittingly, one of those questions involved the team's ability to avoid three consecutive losses and if Jackson has ever brought up that topic internally with the team. Afterall, Jackson's teams have only lost four or more consecutive games 10 times in seven different seasons, none of which were part of his 10 championship teams, including six with the Chicago Bulls and four with the Lakers.
He downplayed the talk about streaks, but he still acknowledged a second consecutive loss has often spurred more urgency."Every loss is a big deal to us," Jackson said. "We don’t talk about numbers. One loss, stop the bleeding. Two, we have to make a definite stand here."
The Lakers performances showed that to be the case that night in a 95-77 win Jan. 10 against Milwaukee, which served as just one example of the Lakers playing much different after two consecutive losses.
Before the Lakers' current three-game slide, they had only lost two consecutive games two separate times this season. And the Lakers responded the third game in convincing fashion. After losing to Denver (105-79) and Houston (101-91), the Lakers rebounded with a convincing 106-93 victory Nov. 17 over Detroit, made possible because of Bryant's 40 points on 17 of 29 shooting and a 20-4 third-quarter run. The Lakers responded to losses against the Clippers (102-91) and Trail Blazers (107-98) with a unexciting 95-77 victory Jan. 10 against the Milwaukee Bucks, an outcome that featured Andrew Bynum's third consecutive double double and a strong bench make up for Bryant's bad shooting night and Ron Artest's ineffectiveness.
"The quality and depth of our team has often allowed us to bounce back after two losses or a loss," Gasol said. "It was our desire to be the best team out there and not allow us to lose games in a row."
The Lakers followed the same trend during the 2008-09 season. After losses to Miami (89-87) and Orlando (106-103), the Lakers answered with a 105-96 victory Dec. 22 against Memphis, which featured four of the five starters shooting at least 50%. A similar scenario happened Jan. 19 when the Lakers beat Cleveland (105-88) after dropping games against San Antonio (112-111) and Orlando (109-103). Against the Cavs, the Lakers supporting cast included Bryant (20 points, six rebounds and 12 assists despite a dislocated ring finger on his shooting hand), Gasol (22 points, 12 rebounds), Bynum (14), Sasha Vujacic (14) and Derek Fisher (11). There was another rebound game Feb. 3 against Memphis (99-89), after the Lakers were embarrassed by Denver (90-79) and Phoenix (118-111).
Said Fisher: "More nights than not were going to be the best basketball team on the floor."
"We've really been an offensive powerhouse," Jackson added. "Our ability to beat teams - a lot of that just has been the offensive capabilities of our players to come back and have a good night if they didn't shoot the ball well or things didn't go well on a particular night. We had really good basketball teams."
That was certainly the case in the Lakers' 104-98 victory April 1 against Milwaukee, with Bryant rebounding from bad shooting performances in previous losses to Charlotte (94-84) and Atlanta (86-76).And as for the rest of the season, Jackson, Bryant, Gasol and Fisher each answered my question within that context, showing they're rightfully thinking about how they can try replicating that same consistency moving forward.
Jackson highlighted the execution that helped minimize losing streaks the past two years wasn't present in the team's winless three-game trip. Bryant mentioned how many of the Lakers' close games could've gone the other way had they sharpened their play down the stretch. Gasol talked about "trusting ourselves and being positive minded." Fisher brought up the team's recent inefficiency had left them "vulnerable", leading him to think that if the team makes the necessary corrections, "we feel like we can get to where we need to be in terms of closing out the regular season and getting ready for postseason play."
The Lakers can make that first step tonight against Toronto. They can also start building a new streak, even if that's not the team's primary concern.
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Photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol tries to take a shot between Orlando center Dwight Howard (12) and forward Rashard Lewis (9) in the second half Sunday. Credit: John Raoux/Associated Press.