5 things to take away from Lakers' 92-88 pre-season loss to FC Barcelona
I'll say this for every pre-season game. The result doesn't matter. Sure, the Lakers' 92-88 loss Thursday to FC Barcelona ended the team's European trip at 0-2. There were a few areas in which the Lakers sorely lacked. And the showing wasn't exactly what Lakers forward Pau Gasol hoped to get in his hometown in Barcelona.
Still, it's the pre-season. Below are a few nuggets on what stood out.
1. Why did Kobe Bryant play heavy minutes? After clocking only six minutes Monday in London because of concerns regarding his surgically repaired right knee, Bryant logged a much heavier load against FC Barcelona. He played 25 minutes this time, but his 15 points on two-of-15 shooting clearly shows that the knee remains an issue. This isn't a long-term cause for concern. Many of his shots, especially early on, showed that Bryant wanted to test his knee so he could accurately read how much lift he could get from it.
What should be a cause for concern involves the question of why Bryant played 25 minutes. Whatever happened to the plan to limit his time during this European trip? Lakers Coach Phil Jackson told reporters afterward that Bryant asked to come back for the second half after he sat for the final 3:05 of the first quarter and the entire second quarter, adding that he trusts how Bryant assesses his health.
Sure, this speaks to Bryant's competitive level and Jackson's willingness to defer to Bryant, two qualities that will surely pay dividends during the season. But this is an exhibition game. Bryant's shooting clearly demonstrated that his rehabilitation on his right knee remains a work in progress, so why take the risk? Fortunately for the Lakers, nothing bad happened.
2.Gasol had an up-and-down showing. Gasol had called the Lakers' exhibition against FC Barcelona a "very special game," for understandable reasons. The Barcelona native returned to Spain for the third time as an NBA player and wanted to put on a good showing before the home crowd.
His stat line of a team-leading 25 points and 10 rebounds appears impressive. But his shooting (seven of 21) and inconsistency (he dipped after scoring 13 of the Lakers' first 18 points) further clouded his performance.
At first, Gasol appeared brilliant in the post. Bryant and Gasol showcased their chemistry when the Black Mamba retrieved a loose ball and darted a quick pass inside to Gasol. He displayed his high basketball IQ when he and Derek Fisher ran a textbook give-and-go, with Fisher drawing a double-team from Ricky Rubio and Boniface N'Dong. And Gasol demonstrated his length and footwork when he used a quick first step past N'Dong and then finished with an up-and-under one-handed dunk over Roger Grimau.
But Gasol also seemed consumed with trying to do too much. In the third quarter alone, Gasol missed four shots within four to six feet of the basket. With the score tied at 76 with 4:30 remaining in the game, Gasol couldn't convert a bank shot as FC Barcelona played help defense.
3. The Lakers' shot selection was questionable. You really only have to look at the box score to know this was an issue. The team went 29 of 85 from the field (34.1%), zero of 14 from three-point range and featured only two players -- Fisher (12 points on four of five shooting) and Ron Artest (10 points on five of 10 shooting) -- to shoot at least .500.
The problem isn't so much the numbers as it was the consequences. Too often, the Lakers settled for open shots instead of running the offense. For how poorly they played against Minnesota in London, at least then the Lakers showed a willingness to get everyone involved and ensure that the newcomers understood the concepts.
The bad shot selection also arguably decided the outcome of the game. Steve Blake missed a three-pointer with 8:26 remaining, when the Lakers trailed 72-70. Artest missed a 19-footer a minute later. Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes each missed a gimme. With the score tied at 76 with 4:52 remaining, Bryant missed a three-pointer, as did Artest two minutes later. As the Lakers trailed 86-83 with 1:09 left in the game, Bryant missed another trey.
FC Barcelona didn't shoot much better from the field, going 30 of 78 (38.5%). But its 12 of 38 mark from three-point range (31.6%) directly correlated to quick ball movement leading to open shots.
4. The Lakers and FC Barcelona were chippy. As Bryant walked toward the free-throw line, FC Barcelona's Pete Mickeal yapped a few words to him. There were plenty of reasons for Mickeal to talk trash. He eventually finished the night with a team-high 26 points, the Euroleague champs wanted to see how they could measure up to the NBA's best and Bryant had just made his first field goal of the night. Mickeal's trash-talking after Bryant's pump fake led to a jumper from the right block and a foul, but it also epitomized how aggressive these teams were with each other.
Artest picked up two of his three fouls barely a minute into the game, and also exchanged some barbs with Mickeal. Barnes knocked Juan Carlos Navarro to the floor on a three-point attempt with 4:41 left in the first quarter. And the teams combined for 56 fouls.
Clearly, the officials called this game fairly tight. But it also spoke to just how much a win would mean for FC Barcelona, and it revealed the Lakers actually took this game more seriously than their loss to Minnesota.
5. Fisher is quietly playing well this pre-season. You can't draw anything definitive from the pre-season. But it is necessary to point out that Fisher has had quality showings against Minnesota (12 points on four of nine shooting in 15 minutes) and FC Barcelona (12 points on four of five shooting in 30 minutes) for a few reasons. Fisher shot poorly in the regular season last year and it's a good sign that his shooting stroke hasn't dropped off from his impressive playoff run. Obviously the Lakers bolstered their bench this season, partly so Fisher could get more rest and so the team could better absorb any offensive inconsistency he experiences. But so far Fisher has held his end of the bargain.
More importantly, Fisher looks very fluid and well-rested. Fisher is cognizant of his age (36) and puts in the extra work in the off-season to stay healthy. Obviously there's going to be times he won't be able to keep up with the fastest guards out there. But so far he looks as healthy as you'd expect from a player who's played in all 82 games for the past five seasons.
Stat of the day: 0 of 14. Nothing epitomized the Lakers' poor shooting than their woeful mark from three-point range.
Quote of the Day: "He’s not ready to play. He’s going out there to help the goodwill and to show the fans his presence." -- Jackson on Bryant (quote via Lakers.com's Mike Trudell)
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant strikes a familiar pose during a break in the action against FC Barcelona on Thursday. Credit: Albert Gea/Reuters.
Photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol finishes a dunk in Thursday's exhibition game against FC Barcelona. Credit: Lluis Gene/ AFP/Getty Images.
Photo: Lakers rookie forward Devin Ebanks and FC Barcelona's Boniface Ndong battle for a rebound in Thursday's exhibition game. Credit: Lluis Gene / AFP / Getty Images