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Lakers' 98-96 loss to Denver Nuggets involve more than Kobe Bryant's absence

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This would've never been chalked up as one of those games the Lakers left feeling better about their overall play. But they at least had the opportunity to defeat Denver without Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum. This effort would've never been chalked up as a stepping stone toward becoming playoff-ready. But the Lakers at least had a chance to officially clinch the top spot in the Western Conference. This performance would've never been chalked up as an example of good execution down the stretch, but the Lakers at least could've showed their capability of executing when it ultimately decided the difference in the game.

Instead, the Lakers fell apart on the final play, losing 98-96 Thursday to the Denver Nuggets. And the play that decided the outcome proved to be the most head-scratching.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson didn't call a timeout for the final play, though the Lakers trailed by two with seven seconds remaining in the game. And the consequence of that decision quickly played out. Lakers guard Derek Fisher manned the point, while forward Lamar Odom attempted a high screen-and-roll on Denver forward Chauncey Billups and then cut toward the far post. Billups switched on Odom, denying him position in the post, while Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony switched and heavily guarded Fisher on the perimeter. Meanwhile, the rest of the Lakers appeared as if they didn't know what to do. Lakers forward Pau Gasol stood around in the paint. Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic remained idle on the near corner. And Lakers forward Ron Artest 's flash to the top of the key didn't create much of an opportunity. With 1.2 seconds remaining, the best look entailed Fisher attempting a contested three-pointer near the top of the key over Anthony, who blocked the shot and capped the night with 31 points on 10 of 20 shooting. 

That final play served as just a microcosm of an inconsistent game that featured the absences of Bryant (officially resting a swelling right knee) and Bynum (missed his ninth consecutive game because of a strained left Achilles' tendon). Surely they could've used Bryant's presence, with his scoring and late-game heroics. They also could've used Bynum's presence with his inside dominance. The Lakers had plenty of chances to win an up-and-down game even without those two, but they didn't though they came close.

The loss means several things. The Lakers (55-23) have a 3-1/2 game lead over Denver (52-27) for the top spot in the West, meaning the Lakers will have to officially clinch another day with four games remaining. The Nuggets own a 3-1 season-series lead, meaning they'll have plenty of confidence if they face the Lakers in the postseason. The Lakers are tied with Orlando (55-23) for the league's second-best record, though the Lakers have the tiebreaker because of their 22-8 mark versus Eastern Conference teams compared to the Magic's 20-10 performance against West opponents. It also means the Lakers won't reach 60 wins, a benchmark Jackson challenged his team to reach perhaps just to keep the Lakers motivated for games that bear little consequence in the West standings. That original goal seemed to conflict with Jackson's recent intention to give Bryant some rest, raising questions on whether the team wants to feel energized once the playoffs start or play at their peak once the playoffs start. It's an understandable tradeoff, however, given Bryant's assortment of injuries (fractured right index finger, sprained left ankle and knee soreness) and his shooting mark of 13 of 47 (27.7%) the past two games, something Jackson thought was partly responsible for poor lift in Bryant's legs.

But against the Nuggets, the Lakers didn't look entirely sharp even if they came near victory through a comeback effort.  They demonstrated more inconsistent play, an indicator that's understandable against a tough Denver team even without Kenyon Martin (left knee). Nonetheless, it didn't help the Lakers' effort in wanting to solidify their play before the postseason begins.

This performance served as a stark contrast to the Lakers' 95-89 victory Feb. 28 over Denver, a matchup that featured Artest locking down on Anthony (seven of 19 shooting and eight turnovers), a facilitating Bryant (season-high 12 assists) and a dependable Lamar Odom (20 points, 12 rebounds). Instead, the performance resembled the Lakers' 87-86 loss Feb. 19 to the Boston Celtics, a game that Bryant missed, came down to the last play and featured lots of shoddy execution from the Lakers.

Against Denver, the Lakers preceded their poorly designed final play with other bad plays. With the Lakers ahead 92-89, Fisher took an ill-advised jumper, J.R. Smith grabbed the rebound and pushed it to guard Anthony Carter. The Lakers' weren't fully ready on transition defense, with Anthony wide open on the far wing. He drilled an uncontested three-pointer to tie the game up at 92-92 with 2:40 remaining, prompting Jackson to call a timeout. It became a one possession game for the rest of the duration, and it appeared the Lakers had a quality late-game stand. With 21.3 seconds remaining, Denver led 97-96 and Smith beat Lakers guard Shannon Brown down the baseline before he recovered and swatted away his shot. Brown fired an outlet pass to Fisher, but Billups tipped the ball. Replays showed, however, that ball last went off Fisher's hands, giving possession to Denver.

After Smith made one of two free throws, the Lakers had the opportunity to tie or win the game with 12 seconds remaining. That didn't happen. Even if the Lakers didn't execute properly on the last play, it still doesn't overshadow the Lakers' ineffective play in the first half and their improving play in the second half.

Though Pau Gasol (eight points, three of six) and Artest (eight points three of four) proved to be dependable options in the first quarter, the Lakers trailed 22-20 because the entire team shot only 33.3%. In the second quarter, it didn't prove much better with Smith scoring 16 of his 26 points during that frame, Odom managing only one point on zero of four shooting and the entire backcourt including Brown (zero of six) Sasha Vujacic (one of six), Fisher (one of four) and Jordan Farmar (one of three) all having woeful first-half performances from the field.

In the third quarter, that all changed with Smith going scoreless, a unit featuring Fisher, Brown, Artest, Odom and Gasol going on a 27-11 run and Anthony making only one of his four field-goal attempts. With the Lakers outrebounding the Nuggets 52-39, Artest and Gasol combining for 48 points and holding an 89-82 lead with 6:24 remaining, it appeared the Lakers would briefly enjoy holding the top spot in the West. But their poor first-half play and shoddy execution late in the game prevented the Lakers from making another step forward, a problem that's played out for far too long.  

--Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter. E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo: Lakers center Pau Gasol, center, controls the ball as Denver center Johan Petro, left, and forward Carmelo Anthony, right, defend during Thursday's game. Credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images.

 
Comments () | Archives (28)

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MM - awesome write up. I don't think you're being negative - just stating the facts. I'm actually tired of many of the bloggers stating that wait until the playoffs - then we're going to roll. What is the slightest bit of evidence that the Lakers are going to just start playing 48 minutes of good ball? There isn't any! (and we really don't know if Bynum will even be back)

When your guards have problems handling the ball, can't pass - especially into the post, and all can't shoot - lucky if they make it past the 2nd round - and I wouldn't be surprised if they got bounced in the first round because both Portland and Spurs will give them a run for their money.

We'll see - I'm hoping that I'm wrong!!

A Couple of Thoughts. (re-post)

I don't really give a damn we lost the game. I was happy to see the boys nut up and turn a blow out into a game we could have and should have won.

Gasol, Artest and Fisher showed real grit and determination in a tough environment. Do I think Phil should have called a TO? Yes, why not? It's not like
we had Kobe in the game to make the shot. Made no sense. You can't ask Fish to make a play, just not what he does. Not his fault. (BTW, Melo switched onto Fish, and AC had Lamar, but Lamar couldn't seal him. Weak Lamar.)

Speaking of Lamar, he either had altitude sickness, or was stoned out of his mind, because he didn't bring the offensive aggressiveness we've come to expect from him when Kobe is missing. A very pathetic performance by Lamar tonight on offense. I'm concerned about him right now. Is he hurt? What's up with LO?

There was other concerns tonight as well. Shannon Brown is obviously having big issues with his hand. He can't high five anyone with it, he obviously can't shoot with it and every time he dunks, it seems to hurt it more. He also makes horrible decisions at crucial times. (turnover at end of game was a killer.) Not good. Walton is just getting back, (no pun) but he seems to be playing in a straight jacket. If he can't be more nimble than this, might as well just give him back the clipboard, cause what he's got right now will not help us. Farmar once again hurts us as much as he helps. For every 3 he makes, he gets beat on D and tonight, blew two key layups in crunch time. He's just not giving us any consistent production. Sasha suffers from a similar disease. He sticks a 3 here and there, but misses ones that really matter and got absolutely abused by JR Smith.

Finally and most importantly, Where the HELL IS KOBE???? WHY ISN'T HE SITTING ON THE BENCH ENCOURAGING HIS TEAMMATES? WHY? LEBRON WAS ON THE BENCH TONIGHT AND OTHER NIGHTS YELLING AND SCREAMING FOR HIS GUYS. WHY NOT KOBE??? I HAVE A COUPLE OF THEORIES. BUT I'LL TELL YOU ONE, EGO EGO EGO. KOBE DOES NOT SEE HIMSELF AS PART OF THIS TEAM, BUT ABOVE IT. THIS IS WHY WE WILL ALWAYS STRUGGLE, EVEN WITH SUPERIOR TALENT. OUR SUPERSTAR IS STILL ABOUT HIMSELF FIRST AND TEAM SECOND. NOT SITTING ON THE BENCH MIGHT SEEM SMALL TO SOME OF YOU, BUT IT SPEAKS VOLUMES.

Game was not lost by Fish on the final shot. It was primarily LO on offense. As usual he goes to sleep every third or fourth game. Why does LO insist on shooting from the outside (1 for 6 tonight) when his physical make up and talent demand 3 times the number of drives to the basket as outside shots. That would put him in a position for tip ins and even more offensive rebounds. This team has trouble maintaing a focus for 4 Qs leave alone every posession. Cannot buy open shots (including open free throws) from 2 ft to 30 ft. The lack of shooting confidence comes from a lack of mental toughness & preparation. It is inexcusable that this mediocre bench does not listen to all of the coaches. Lakers scare none of the top teams even with a 12 point lead and 3 minutes to go! Unfortuantely, fans are guilty of stoking their unearned "cocky" mentality by assuming they can flip a switch which seems more like a dimmer. Look at the abundance of guards on other teams unafraid to take a shot, drive to the basket and play defense even if they get to play only 10 minutes a game!! Winning all the remaining games is a must because the Magic will get to the finals!

Good points Mike and MM. Phil coached a good game but should have called a timeout with couple seconds left. 99 3/4% of the NBA coaches would have called a timeout, but not Phil he want to choose the wrong time to be unorthodox. This looks like the 2008 Phil Jackson when he got outcoached by Doc. Last season he was more conservative and kept a tighter reign on the game. If he coaches like this in the playoffs we are doomed. As for kobe I am his biggest fan but he has issues. Earlier in the season when he was on injured reserve he never was on the bench cheering on his guys. That just does not look good for the leader to be absent. That excuse about getting treatment during games was b.s. I agree with the example Lebron sets by being on the bench and cheering on his guys. Kobe is the one who wants to chase down Magic and MJ and he needs his guys to be able to do it. As a result he should be there cheering on the guys with inferior talent than himself.

There is something called comraderie and it is important especially on the road in hostile conditions. For the Lakers to repeat Kobe must develop that, Phil must stop doing umm dumb stuff and L.O. must be consistent.

Beaten by Thuggets by only 2 points; without The Black Mamba, without AB17.

How do you like that line??? I FRICKEN LIKE THAT!

I personally don't care how "inconsistent" these guys can be, as what others say. How bout those Thuggets? Beating the Lakers, who were without 2 major/ key/ very important players, by only 2 points. How does that speak of them Thuggets? WE WILL BEAT THIS THUGGETS IF EVER WE MEET THEM IN THE PLAYOFFS.

For me, there is no other team in the West that can beat the Thugs in a seven game series. Therefore, we will be the Champs again.

For those, who doubt the Lakers, please come back when the playoffs start. This isn't the right time to talk about how inconsistent they are or whatever. We can only VALIDATE your so called "doubts" when we are finally ELIMINATED THIS SEASON.

Kobe Bryant resting should scare the hell out of our opponents. It basically means that all is set for the playoffs/ the table is ready and when the final horn of the regular season sounds, then IT'S TIME TO PARTEYYYY!!!!!!

P.S.
Notice how some bloggers say the Lakers are very inconsistent the whole season. Think about their record? First in the Western Conference/ Second in the League. How's that for a "very inconsistent team"?


LAKERS ALL FRICKEN DAY!!!

Mikefloss,

Please leave Kobe alone. People are called individuals for a reason. We don't think alike. We all have our individualities. IMO, perhaps getting treatment by resting those knees instead of sitting/ standing on the bench is much better and is very beneficial come playoffs.

Pls. don't compare Kobe with Lebron.

Kobe does everything in order to WIN. The only thing he cares about is WINNING, Nothing more/ Nothing less, and he has PROVEN that.

Farmar played a pretty good game. Yes, he missed to chippies that were contested. However, he blew past the defense to get to the hole. My contention is that if Jordan played a full game instead of 16 measly minutes he would make those type of plays consistently.

Lakers played best when Farmar was on the floor, yet 10 rings took him out.

Don't understand why 10 rings didn't call time out at crunch time. What is the point taking the time out home after a loss?

Maybe 10 rings will "rest" Fisher for the playoffs tonite and give Farmar minutes so Lakers can win the game.

the only consolation i can take from this game IS, at least it was a "good loss". when was the last time we lost a game having a chance a chance to win it at the end of regulation? you'd be hardpressed to come up with that! when we lose, it's been basically a blow-out. btw, where was L.O.? yeah, he had 13 boards, BUT basically disappeared offensively. i get so tired of his "passive-aggressive" game. HIS game is so schizophrenic! our guards, kobe inlcluded, are fastly becoming the "gang that can't shoot straight"! i'm out of here!

Mikefloss:

100% agree with you about Kobe not siting on the bench. Can somebody explain why he is not there when he is injured or not playing. That is really annoying and it is something that need to be looked into!!!

It is when the circumstances look dire that true character arises. This is true of the coaches, players and the fans. It seems like so many so-called Lakers fans are jumping ship or at least in a panic. History proves that championships are not won in the last dozen games of the regular season. Don't give up hope!
There are plenty of things that are a cause for concern (injuries being the highest concern), but nothing serious enough that can't be corrected. Every team in the West has its concerns (especially not having home court against us) most of which are much more threatening than ours:
Dallas: inconsistent defense and outside shooting, old point guard, never wins
big games
Denver: injuries to K-Mart, poor bench play, inconsistent play from Nene,
coach who is battling cancer
Utah: can't beat the Lakers in LA, not enough muscle inside
Phoenix: Can't win in play-off style , physical games
San Antonio: Old, tired injury-prone players, lack of role players
Portland: Inexperienced team, needs home court to win
Oklahoma City: Inexperienced and untested, mediocre bench

If I was making odds in Vegas, I still would have the Lakers as the favorites in the West. It's just that the margin is slimmer this year.

OK, now that I've read through 4 posts of how Fish sucked, PJ sucked , trade Kobe, and the sky is falling the sky is falling blah blah blah.

True, Fish was 2 for 11. Big deal. Billups was only 4 for whatever and 2 of those were teardrops from just inside the freethrow line. Try to guard those. Fish did get it done on the defensive end except when he got wiped on several NaNa nano nano moving screens (nano would make a great pulling guard) and nobody rotated. He got robbed on that save by UPS at the end of the game. On the last shot there were multiple problems:

1. No time out to advance the ball and draw up a play.
2. It looked like the laker back court was having a convention at the top of the key that brought all their defenders to the ball instead of spacing the court, which is how Anthony ended up on Fish.
3. Fish was fouled by Anthony, but you can't expect to get that call.

Then there were the turnovers in the last two minutes. One of those was Pau getting wacked across the arms by Nano Nano with no call. The other, just a bone head turnover.

There were a bunch of bonehead mistakes and misses throughout the game, yet the Lakers still brought it to Denver on their home floor without Kobe or Drew.

You guys that say that the Lakers are done in the first round. Go find another sport to watch 'cuz you don't have enough heart to be fans in this one.

Hey Trolls - Who was guarding Smith? I haven't seen any complaining from you about the guy(s) that let him light it up last night. Just about the guy that shutdown Billups.

Oh, I forgot to mention, what I think was a solid night for Sasha. Not a lot of points but some good D, rebounding and decision making.

JR

LO's inconsistency is a big problem for his team's success. He is an effective player yesterday and today and tomorrow and the day after, you scratch your head and wonder who is this guy? Shannon's finger is impeding his play, that's obvious and he needs to "play smarter", he is talented, but he makes some bad decisions, I suppose that will come with experience. And lastly, I too, wonder why Kobe does not sit on the bench when he is not playing. I watched Lebron dancing, cheering, talking to his team members; Kobe NEVER does that!!! My mom's caregiver thinks that he feels that the team will not play well if he is on the bench, but I disagree, I think his presence, his encouragement, his advice would help the team. I, too, have a theory and it involves "a little undercurrent in the camp"; I hope that I'm wrong and my caregiver is right. We may never know.

Lamar Odom miissed the bus to the game last night with Denver. Seems he is doing this pretty regular. The game with Denver showed up just how the regulars and the bench are playing since the All-Star game. Walton did not even know he was in a basketball game. He was lost. Whatever team the Lakers play in the playoffs it will be pretty interesting because they can all take the Lakers. Hopefully management will take a good look at the team this summer and get a solid PG. That is the weak link on the Lakers right now. Bynum is good trade bait and we should get a couple of good players for him.

A lot of inconsistent statements, especially by JovBat. First and foremost is that Denver played without Kenyon Martin. He is the heart and soul of Denver, and a monster player during the playoffs. Secondly, Nene and the Bird man didn't appear in the game till the end of the 1st and 2nd quarter respectfully. Strange move, but it tells me they didn't take this game seriously either, as Petro and Affalo started. True, Kobe didn't play but it wouldn't have mattered much, as the LA tribe couldn't put the ball in the hole once again, shooting a miserable 36% from the field. This has been the trend for the last 5 or 6 games, with the exception of Utah. But one good game headed into the playoffs, doesn't amount to much. I'll tell you this, the Lakes are in big trouble. No cohesion, no strut in their step, they look tired, old, and apathetic, with no sense of urgency. I'll tell you something else, when the playoffs starts, sure the Lakes will kick it in gear, but the other teams will kick it into 2 gears. Dallas especially, with a wise team mixed with a new Haywood and Butler. Not to mention a SA Spurs team, that looks like they can win it all again, with the return of Parker, Hill, and McDyess. Hill is slowly turning into the next premier point guard. So now Bynum will return on the 18th, but at what strength? Even at full strength, he only shows bits of strong play. What is he going to give at 50% strength, while taking valuable minutes away from other players?

Matt - Hey thanks man for the feedback. Yeah I'm just writing what I see. There were things to like about the game, and things not to like about the game. That final play just didn't make any sense.

MM

Also, we got a new post up with all the morning links. I'll gladly repost anything you guys want reposted.

MM

Tom Tom: "Can somebody explain why he is not there when he is injured or not playing. That is really annoying and it is something that need to be looked into!!!"

OK, here's the scoop. Both Kobe and Bynum were back in the locker room getting treatment. Most probably ultrasound, ice, etc.

The NBA has a bench dress code and probably would frown upon Kobe sitting at the end of the bench in cut-off dress slacks with treatment equipment dragged out of the locker room so that Kobe could be with the team.

If you watched the Cleveland game early, you'd have seen that Lebron wasn't on the bench because he didn't have "proper attire" (a suit) available--it was a late decision to rest him.

Unlike Lebron resting for the sake of rest, Kobe didn't dress due to injuries. He needed the treatment!

NOW! GIVE IT A REST AND STOP BASHING KOBE FOR DOING WHAT'S NEEDED TO BE EFFECTIVE COME THE PLAYOFFS!!!!

Guys - This whole discussion about Kobe sitting on the bench is nonsense. He's getting treatment. If he were on the bench, it actually would've been a waste for him to rest.

MM

This loss lies on Phil. Pau was dominating this game and the last play should have been run through him. Either he would have gotten a shot off, or passed out to an open shooter.
Vujacic should be sent back to the doghouse! 3-12 is terrible- escpecially when most af those were off-balanced, terrible jacks from long range.
Phil should just rest all of the starteers for the last few games since the team is still playing(with the exception of a few) in a haze of boredom.
This is the worst second half of a season basketball I think I have ever witnessed by a Lakers squad. When you got from talk of breaking the regular season record in October, to questions about this team even getting out of the first round in April, you know it's bad.
I have serious concernd over this team's ability to just flip that switch and dominate. The last Laker squads that had this ability were anchored by Shaq in his prime. Think about it.
I still have faith we can win it all, but it's going to be extremely difficult with the lack of focus and all of the injuries.

Someone mentioned that Sasha had a good game- LOL! I guess you call shooting 3-12, with no assists, and getting torched by J.R. Smith constitutes having a good game.
Back to into the doghouse and shave that nonsense off your face that is trying to appear as a beard!

Eric Wright, your knowledge of BBall is = 0...How can anyone say "This team has NO shot" after a game like yesterday? Maybe you meant Denver has NO shot, right? Because they have at least 3 players that can shoot 3-pointers and STILL won by only 2 points a team without 2 key players?

You should change your name to Eric Wrong, fits you better.

Eric Wright,

I suspect that you have no friends. I bet that hurts to be that lonely. Kind of makes you mad and want to lash out at people who have it better.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

GO LAKERS!!!

I think Kobe sitting out is a good thing, and he should probably sit out several more games before the end of the season.

Yes, Sasha and Shannon and Jordan played so-so (they all had some positive moments and some negative moments). The thing is, they definitely will NOT improve if they sit on the bench and play 8 or 12 minutes a game and get yanked every time they brick a shot or turn the ball over.

What they all need is more minutes to shake off the rust and get back to playing at a level they're capable of. Sasha is capable of hitting >40% of his 3's, or scoring 20 points in a playoff game. Shannon is also capable of hitting a high % of his 3's in playoff games. Jordan is capable of pushing the pace a bit, but staying mostly in control.

They've all done it for stretches in the past, but they haven't consistently played well this season, and it's caused a negative feedback loop. They don't play well, then Phil gives them less minutes, so they have less time to get into the flow of the game, so they push harder and stress out more and play even worse.

If Kobe would sit out 2 or 3 more games, then Sasha & Shannon & Jordan would get enough minutes to re-find their game just in time for the playoffs. In fact, I'd consider resting Fish for a game as well and get BIG minutes for those three.

The best outcome is that they all get some of their mojo back, and then the Lakers could feel more confident about their bench. An okay outcome would be one or two of them would step up, and then they would know who to keep in the shorter playoff rotation and who to leave mostly on the bench.

Even the worst outcome is you lose a couple of games that don't matter, and you find out that none of those three is going to be capable of playing big minutes in the playoffs. But the silver lining would be that Kobe would be better rested and thus more capable of playing 40+ minutes a night.

I still have confidence that the bench mob can find back some of the spirit, some of the intensity, and some of the skill that made them assets to the championship team of last season.

I think Kobe sitting out is a good thing, and he should probably sit out several more games before the end of the season.

Posted by: LongTimeLakerFan | April 09, 2010 at 11:18 AM

NOT ON SUNDAY!!!
I'm taking the kid to the game and we need a win so I push him to the bright side. Yeah, he heard about LeBron and Cavs and he started to like (NOOOOOOOOO.....). I still have a shot if we win, hopefully w/ Kobe.
Good luck to me!
Cheers.

btw, he's just 4 yo...

But, Eric Wright, you ARE a loser... and you know it... and so does everyone else on this blog.

There's no hiding from the truth.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

GO LAKERS!!!!

Mike Smith,

You wrote,

"True, Kobe didn't play but it wouldn't have mattered much, ...."

How in the world could you explain that?????????? And you are saying I'm inconsistent? LOL

__________________________

Eric Wright,

YOU ARE THE WORST KIND OF TROLL I'VE SEEN. YOU DON'T DESERVE TO BE IN THIS BLOG.

I JUST WISH YOU'LL BANNED FROM THIS SITE.

LOSER.



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