Five things to take away from Lakers' 95-92 loss to the Indiana Pacers
1. The Lakers lacked the right energy from beginning of the game
Forget about Kobe Bryant's two failed three-point attempts on the final play of what became a Lakers' 95-92 loss Sunday to the Indiana Pacers. Forget about Coach Phil Jackson telling Ron Artest afterward he should've called timeout after grabbing an offensive rebound following Bryant's first miss. Forget about Pau Gasol overreacting to Indiana's screen-and-roll play that led to Roy Hibbert slamming it home and giving the Pacers a 95-92 lead with 16.4 seconds remaining.
The Lakers (13-4) wouldn't have been in the position to overcome a 15-point deficit had they entered the game against Indiana (8-7) with the proper energy going in. Jackson has repeatedly warned his team about Sunday games because of his belief that they perform poorly during those contests, but instead the Lakers played what Jackson described as a "lethargic game," resulting in the team's second consecutive loss for the second time this season. It also marked the first time Indiana has won at Staples Center and its first road win against the Lakers since Feb. 14, 1999, a win Pacers forward Danny Granger insisted was a "big statement."
"It's still early," Bryant said. "We don't want to fret too much about these losses, but you want to understand what you need to do to focus in and know where the championship starts from."
2.Jackson remains non-committal on how he's going to limit the minutes of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom
This issue isn't exactly new, since both knew they'd have to carry a heavier load than usual as Andrew Bynum rehabbed from his surgically repaired right knee. But Jackson seemed at a loss for patience before the game when he talked about Bynum's revelation Saturday that he plans to return to the court within three weeks. Whether you find fault with how Bynum handled his off-season surgery or not, Jackson's going to have to find a way to shorten Gasol's and Odom's minutes. That moment will have to come for another day considering Gasol logged 45 minutes and 30 seconds, while Odom played 40 minutes and 13 seconds.
Jackson shared afterward that it's going to be tough to find them a lighter load for the Lakers' back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday against Memphis and Houston. He even went so far to say rest won't come until after the Lakers' game Friday against Sacramento since they don't have a game until next Tuesday against Washington. But by Jackson's own self-admission, he's going to have to change his strategy in hoping Gasol and Odom can continue handling the load.
"As long as we have that run I thought we were playing well and winning games, I thought we'd sustain that momentum and we're okay," Jackson said when I asked before the game how long he forsees Gasol and Odom being able to handle the heavy minutes. "We'll see how it goes as we go forward on the road trip and this week and back to back on the road games. I'm going to have to be a better monitor of those minutes for those guys."
The Lakers' loss to Indiana illustrated Odom's still able to handle it, finishing with 15 points on six of 10 shooting and 11 rebounds. Gasol showed by his 13-point performance on five of 15 shooting that he's gassed.
Obviously I'm averagin quite a few minutes and I'm out there for a while," Gasol said, who's averaging a team-leading 38.7 minutes per game and has logged at least 40 minutes in the past three games. "I try to do my best out there and try to keep my energy as high as possible out there and do my job. Tonight it was more of an off shooting night. I had good looks for the most part. It didnt fall as they usually fall so I'm still pretty active iwith blocking shots."
Gasol's clearly trying to remain professional. The challenges show that the Lakers, as recently reported by The Times' Mike Bresnahan, aren't in the financial position to acquire a backup center, will be without Theo Ratliff because of arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and only have rookie Derrick Caracter as a backup. Options such as playing Caracter more minutes or going to a guard-oriented lineup may hurt the Lakers in the short term, but it's much more important to sustain Gasol's energy level.
"Pau's minutes will be a matter of fatigue," Jackson said. "It's not going to be a matter of injury."
After fielding a few questions about the Lakers' offensive struggles, Bryant let out his signature glare.
"Why does everybody want to talk about offense?" Bryant asked. "I'm not talking about offense. We won back-to-back championships with defense. Stop it. It's ignorant. We're talking about defense. Defense wins championships, period."
This is a case of Bryant and the media both being right, but in different contexts. You can't exactly ignore the Lakers' 38.6 shooting percentage, Bryant's 41 points on 14-of-33 shooting as well as poor performances from Gasol (five of 15), Derek Fisher (two of eight) and Shannon Brown (two of nine). You also can't exactly ignore the fact that the Lakers have scored less than 100 points in their last two losses, which pales to their league-leading 110 points per game. But Bryant's point about the defense raises a point about the Lakers' approach all season.
With how well their offense has run this season, the Lakers operate as if they can simply outscore the opposition. But this game against Indiana shows how that's not going to become a long-term winning formula. Losing the rebounding edge 48-45, yielding 19 second-chance points and allowing endless drives to the basket will not spell much playoff success. The Lakers have a better makeup than last season's roster because of the bench upgrades and the team-work mentality, but they managed to hone in on rotations more consistently than the Lakers have this season.
"It sucked," Bryant summed up regarding the Lakers' defense.
4. Bryant's late-game heroics couldn't rescue a poorly run offense
Bryant may not want to talk about the team's offensive struggles, but his on-court actions said it all. With the Lakers trailing, 68-55, with 4:37 remaining in the third quarter, Bryant scored 15 consecutive points to close the gap to 77-69 entering the fourth quarter, including a drive to the basket off a spin move and capped with a layup to draw a foul as he fell down. He continued his theatrics in the fourth quarter once he entered the game with 8:40 left, hitting two straight baskets before setting up Ron Artest's three-pointer to cut the lead to 89-86 with 2:43 remaining. His running jumper and fadeaway moments later kept the Lakers to within 93-90 with 1:07 left.
"When you get in a situaton when you're 15 down, you have to go to get back in the game," Jackson said of Bryant. "Theres no way to wait around for our offense to start working. I thought our guys didn't move the ball and didn't move themselves right."
That proved apparent with the Lakers settling for too many jumpers. When that happens, it's necessary for the Lakers to become more selective with their shots so they can build a rhythm. The plan to work the ball inside didn't have positive results either, considering how well Hibbert guarded Gasol. And eventually the plan to ride Bryant's hot hand fell short.
"We didn't move the ball very well tonight," Gasol said. "There was not much of a flow out there. Guys weren't in any kind of rhythm."
5. Artest trying to figure out his role
As the Lakers walked off the court, Jackson pulled Artest aside.
"He told me I should've called a timeout when I got the offensive rebound," Artest said of the final play. "But it was hard to think about that. Kobe was asking for the ball and he would hit the three. I told Kobe I was going to give it to him. I asked him could everybody on the court call the timeout even if I had the ball. He said yes, so he forget to address it with everybody, but thats OK."
Aside from that one anecdote, however, Artest spoke diplomatically on what's amounted to a decreased role so far this season. His 26 minutes and 32 seconds of play against Indiana is just below his average of 27.2 minutes per game, a sharp decrease from the 33.8 minutes he logged last season. That revelation is partly a good thing, pointing to the fact that Matt Barnes is a solid backup. But it's created another challenge for Artest, who had gone through struggles last season in understanding the triangle.
This season, it involves more than just Barnes relieving him of playing time. He's experienced continual back spasms, something he played coy about before the game. Though Jackson said Artest did a "good job" on Granger, his 18-point performance on seven-of-16 shooting wasn't exactly the lockdown performance Artest needs to give. And though he scored a key three-pointer late in the game, his offense remains limited as indicated by his number of shots against Indiana (four) and shot selection in previous games. Though Jackson said he didn't want to "harbor" on Artest's play against the Pacers, he admitted before the game he addressed Artest's ill-advised fourth-quarter jumper after penetrating through the lane against Utah. But he lauded him for taking the open three-pointer on the last possession against the Jazz, though the shot didn't go in the basket.
"I feel comfortable, but it just doesnt look good," Artest said. "It's not about not worrying about the individual part of it. It's about doing what you do. Even last year, I was playing bad and, of course, I want the ball. But that's not how we're made up so what do I do? I go out and I play hard and we win and that's it. What do I do when I have to step it up? You saw that when the games matter last year, people saw what I have to do."
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