Five things to take away from Lakers' 102-96 loss to the Utah Jazz
1. The Lakers' offense went in a late-game drought.The mechanics on whether a Kobe Bryant scoring spree is good for the team proves rather simple. When he's making them, ride the momentum. When he's missing them, try something else. Even if there featured several elements to the Lakers' 102-96 loss Friday to the Utah Jazz, they could've grinded out a win had they followed this blueprint properly.
Bryant brought the Lakers back in the game by scoring 14 consecutive points, including three three-pointers, a mid-range jumper and three free-throws, with the latter shots giving the Lakers a 96-91 with 2:31 remaining. That would mark the last time the Lakers' scored for the rest of the contest, as the the team mysteriously went away from Bryant's hot hand and broke down on numerous sequences. Lakers forward Pau Gasol missed a 21-footer. A poor dump off pass between Gasol and Bryant led to Utah guard Deron Williams swiping the ball and creating a fast-break basket for Jazz guard Raja Bell to give the Jazz a 98-96 loss with 1:02 left. And Ron Artest missed two consecutive shots in the final minute, including a play that featured Bryant passing to him for an open corner three-pointer.
I don't fault Bryant for passing to Artest since it establishes trust in him and could come in handy, as indicated by his key three-pointer in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. But considering Artest's shooting mark, he should've passed up the shot.
The Lakers' offensive problems go beyond following the hot hand of Bryant, who actually went six of 17 before his fourth-quarter shooting streak. With Gasol and Lamar Odom combining for only 22 of the 79 field goals, it's obvious the Lakers didn't utilize their strengths enough. It's not just a matter of feeding them entry passes just for the sake of it. The Lakers shot four of 15 from three-point range and feature poor shooting performances from Artest (three of eight for 11 points), Derek Fisher (one of seven for four points), Steve Blake (zero of seven for zero points) and Shannon Brown (two of five for eight points).
2. The Lakers couldn't make defensive stops. Bryant's hot shooting streak became fairly worthless, considering the Lakers couldn't stop Utah on the other end. Deron Williams' 29 points on 10 of 14 shooting, three of six mark from three-point range and 12 assists came for multiple reasons that are all too familiar for Laker fans. Fisher gave him too much open space in the perimeter to hit shots. The Lakers didn't switch correctly on pick-and-rolls and curls to the basket. They didn't shut off the lane when Williams drove through traffic. And they failed to play help defense when he beat Fisher. Williams made two jumpers and dished off an assist to Bell in between Bryant's scoring spree.
3. The Lakers' bench couldn't secure second-quarter lead.Big picture perspective: The reserves' second-quarter meltdown will serve as a learning experience and make them an even stronger effort. Short-term perspective: This was a huge reason why the Lakers lost. They entered the second quarter with a 33-17 lead, but ended it with 50-46 half-time deficit for plenty of reasons. The Utah bench went on an 11-0 run. The Killer B's shot two of 10. And the team's shoddy offensive execution led to the Jazz converting on easy buckets, creating more momentum and making it harder for the Lakers to stop it.
The Lakers' bench has largely played consistent, so the team should frankly move on from this performance. But the Lakers should ensure that they're better prepared against an opposing team's bench in a tough road environment in the future.
4. The malfunctioning clock proved to be a huge distraction.By no means did this largely affect the outcome of the game. But EnergySolutions Arena shouldn't be having shot clock issues in a one possession game so late in the contest. The issue remained prevalent for the last 1:32 and appeared most egregious when referees stopped play with 28 seconds left as the Lakers trailed 98-96 because only eight seconds remained on the shot clock. Fisher rightfully bounced the ball in frustration, as the Lakers started establishing their offense.
5. The Lakers came in with the right focus. This might fall on the cutting room floor, but the Lakers should feel proud that they stormed to such an early lead. The play featured strong ball movement, team defense and lots of energy. It was uncertain whether the Lakers would appear that sharp, considering the past two days featured a day off Wednesday, a light practice Thursday and a flight later in the evening.
With the Lakers trying to find whatever ways possible to sustain their energy for the long haul, they should feel comforted that days of rest will likely feature a rejuvenated team rather than a rusty one.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant leans past Jazz guard Ronnie Price for a short-range shot in the first half Friday night. Credit: Steve C Wilson / Associated Press