Five things to take away from Lakers' 121-116 loss to the Phoenix Suns
The sequence soon became as monotonous and predictable as a blow-'em-up summer blockbuster. The Suns dribbled up the floor, swung the ball around the perimeter and then waited for an open cutter to appear beyond the arc. Whether taking place from the corner, the top of the key or from 25 feet out or more, the Suns wouldn't see a three-pointer they didn't like.
The Lakers' 121-116 loss Sunday to the Phoenix Suns gives them their second consecutive loss and points to a problem that's bothered them all season long -- a failure to defend. Sometimes that's entailed the Lakers messing up on defending screen and rolls, failing to block off driving lanes or performing on help defense when needed. But against Phoenix, the Lakers' most egregious defensive problem was their failure to overplay the perimeter.
The result: The Suns went 22 of 40 from three-point range, a franchise record for three-pointers made in a game, and the highest number of three-pointers the Lakers have allowed in a game. The explanations in the locker room appeared mixed, with Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and most players conceding that they had thought the Suns' hot streak would eventually fizzle out, but acknowledging they didn't react well on close outs and switching defensive rotations. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who sagged a bit on defense himself, simply chalked it up to Phoenix shooting well.
It's indisputable that a team hitting 22 three-pointers will rarely happen. It is a record after all. Hedo Turkoglu's 17 points on six-of-nine shooting included a second-quarter three-pointer that tipped the front rim and simply dropped in the basket and a 26-foot heave that gave the Suns a 115-109 lead with 34.7 seconds remaining. There isn't much you can do there. But plenty of Jason Richardson's 35 points on 13-of-20 shooting and seven-of-10 from three-point range came on wide-open looks or delayed contested reactions.
The Lakers' poor defense, which led to Phoenix's 22 of 43 field goals coming from long range, isn't as worrisome moving forward as is the fact that the poor focus in that department has been ongoing. As tempting as it is to simply flush this defensive performance away because the Suns played as if they held the fireball in NBA Jam, the Lakers' poor communication on defense isn't anything out of the ordinary.
With the Lakers trailing by four points with under a minute remaining, Bryant found Lamar Odom wide open inside for the easy layup. As Odom lined up for the shot, Turkoglu appeared to foul him, but no whistles were blown. Odom said afterward that he yelled out "And 1," because he believed he was fouled, but instead he was called for a technical.
This sequence perfectly illustrates the stupidity behind the NBA's new technical-foul rule that cracks down on demonstrative and overt reactions to referees' calls. The ruling proved illogical for two reasons: Odom's reaction seemed pretty normal, and the call came late in the game and significantly altered the outcome.
I'm not blind to the fact had the Lakers corrected their defensive issues, this wouldn't have been such a widely talked about subject in the locker room. But the officials shouldn't have allowed this to become remotely significant in the outcome. Instead, Phoenix guard Steve Nash hit a free throw, and Turkoglu followed with a three-pointer to give the Suns a 115-109 lead with 34.7 seconds remaining.
3. Steve Blake's absence affected the Lakers' rotation.
Blake missed Sunday's game because of a stomach virus, causing the Sasha Vujacic to play 11 minutes, when he normally doesn't appear other than in garbage time. As expected, Vujacic played Slovenian rival Goran Dragic fairly closely. But his three-pointer at the top of the key over Dragic likely put him on Cloud Nine for several reasons. The shot cut the Suns' lead to 95-89 with 10:44 left in the fourth quarter and erased a missed layup moments earlier.
4. The Lakers' frontcourt bounced back, but they weren't used enough.
On paper, it appeared Pau Gasol and Odom proved effective enough inside to keep the Lakers in contention. After all, Gasol's 28 points on 12-of-17 shooting and 17 rebounds showed his six-of-17 outing against Denver resembled nothing more than an off night. Odom's 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting and 11 rebounds showed that the last two games, in which he didn't record a double-double, will prove the exception rather than the norm. But they could have done more.
They don't deserve the finger-pointing. Both provided enough putbacks. Both took advantage of timely entry passes inside. And one sequence epitomized their teamwork quite well: Odom fed Gasol inside before one-timing it to Matt Barnes for the two-handed slam, cutting the Suns' lead to 104-102 with 4:49 remaining.
Instead, the rest of their teammates should've done more to feed them. I don't mean to take away from Bryant's 25-point performance on 11-of-20 shooting, his impressive backboard pass to himself for a layup and the 14 assists that mostly went to Gasol. I don't mean to downplay Shannon Brown's 12 points off the bench and a timely corner three-pointer that cut Phoenix's lead to 104-100 with 5:53 left. But the Lakers could've won the game had they fed Odom and Gasol more than 35 combined field-goal attempts. That may seem like enough touches, but not when it represents 96 total shots. The Lakers could start with Ron Artest, whose 13 points came on five-of-12 shooting and featured questionable shot selection.
5. The Lakers' turnovers remained an issue.
Their 18 turnovers created 12 points for Phoenix, disrupted the team's chemistry and came at crucial moments of the game. As much as the Lakers' offensive chemistry has clicked, it's almost made them feel too comfortable.
As well as Bryant set up the post, his eight turnovers reflected poor passes. As comfortable as Gasol appears inside, his four turnovers shows his failure to immediately react to pressure inside. And as well as the Lakers have run their offense, their 18 total turnovers revealed an arrogant attitude that they can simply manufacture points whenever they want.
Stat of the Night: 22 -- The number of three-pointers the Suns made against the Lakers, As mentioned above, that's a Phoenix franchise record for three-pointers made in a game and a Lakers franchise record for most three-pointers an opponent made in a game.
Quote of the Night: "I'll just say I have five rings playing a particular way. I feel like that works pretty well. People do other things, and you see the results. That's just my opinion. Obviously I'm biased." -- Lakers guard Derek Fisher on why he doesn't think the Suns' three-point shooting will be a sustainable winning strategy.
-- Mark Medina
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Upper photo: Kobe Bryant, left, and Pau Gasol walk together during the final moments of the Lakers' 121-116 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday at Staples Center. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times
Middle photo: Bryant argues a foul call during the final seconds of the game. Credit: Gina Ferazzi /Los Angeles Times
Lower photo: Gasol dunks on a fast break. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times