FIve things to take away from Lakers' 98-79 loss to Milwaukee Bucks
1. Plenty of signs suggested the Lakers would have a poor effort against Milwaukee. With heads hung low, the Lakers walked toward the entrance tunnel amid a shower of boos reigning from the select few that still remained at Staples Center. Most of them had already left well before the Lakers' 98-79 loss Tuesday to the Milwaukee Bucks became official, but the vocal disapproval capped off a day that featured very little going right for the Lakers (21-8).
Some of the signs pointed back to as early as their morning shootaround. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson revealed a fender bender accident caused Kobe Bryant to arrive a half-hour late to the shootaround. Lamar Odom's flu-like symptoms prompted Jackson to tell him to miss the morning session completely. And the challenges that come from playing its first game after a seven-game trip became too overwhelming.
The immediate concern involves whether the Lakers appeared too fixated on the Christmas Day game against Miami, an area the team actually emphasized during the morning's shootaround. Even if the team's stoicness about the upcoming manufactured rivalry appeared genuine, the Lakers still went against everything they pledged avoiding. That doesn't mean they remained distracted with the Heat so much as they revealed trends that's plagued them all season, even on their 6-1 trip (7-1 if you count the Lakers' 87-87 victory two weeks ago to the Clippers).
"We didnt play very well," Lakers forward Matt Barnes said of the team's trip. "It was sub 500 teams that we should've put a clamp down on them. We didnt do that. We got wins."
And against Milwaukee (11-16), the Lakers experienced their most lopsided loss all season to a team that lost five of their last nine games this month, including a 26-point defeat Monday to Portland.
2. The Lakers lacked consistency on offenseFor every impressive Bryant post-up jumper, Andrew Bynum left hook and Lamar Odom drive, there were offensive sequences that proved how individual tendencies contributed to an offense that appeared nothing like the triangle. With seven seconds remaining on the shot clock in the third quarter, Pau Gasol aimlessly dribbled the clock before mustering the ball to Shannon Brown. With Bryant driving the lane, John Salmons managed to steal the ball despite falling down from the floor. And at one point Derek Fisher ran through two defenders and heaved a forced shot in traffic only to get it blocked.
"We stopped moving the ball," Jackson said, which explains how the Lakers managed to lose a game despite boasting 56 points in the pain and Bryant (21), Gasol (15) and Odom (12) cracking double figures. "We started playing individual basketball. Stand around stuff started happening."
3. The Lakers continue to lack a defensive identityThe Lakers literally stood around defense all game and they're showing no signs of improving. Sure Bynum's length and presence allowed him to swat Jon Brockman with authority and disrupt the lanes. But the Lakers' poor defense goes beyond Earl Boykins using his short 5-foot-5 frame to breeze past Fisher for a 22-point effort on eight of 12 shooting and Andrew Bogut and Ersan Ilyasova muscling Gasol and Odom 17 and 15 points, respectively.
"We have pretty good individual defensive players," Jackson said. "But you can't play defense individually."
For the Bucks to expose the Lakers' season-long communicative defensive problems despite the absence of Branding Jennings (left foot injury) and boasting one of the league's worst offenses shows this problem goes beyond a poor effort. The Lakers simply lack the necessary defensive identity, a concern that will grow in magnitude once their schedule stiffens up.
4. Kobe Bryant's ejection revealed his frustration level reaching a peak.
The Lakers trailed by 15 points with a little more than two minutes remaining, but that doesn't mean Bryant was about to let his aggressiveness down. He drove the lane and appeared on his way to drawing an offensive foul. Instead, he was called for a charge on Bogut, prompting Bryant to shout expletives at referee Bill Spooner. Despite drawing a technical foul, Bryant continued jawing and earned an immediate ejection.
"It's frustration," Jackson said. "There's some things that happened out there. Referees are human. They see a team outwork you and they're going to give them the benefit of the calls."
Bryant immediately went exited the game through the entrance tunnel, showered and left the locker room without speaking with reporters. That left his teammates speaking on his behalf. Lakers forward Ron Artest offered the wacky: "It happened in the past. it happened in the present. and it'll happen in the future. It happens to all players ... The only person who didnt get ejected is Jesus.") Fisher offered the spokesperson version: "I would imagine he was frustrated. We were all frustrated. But I dont think there was too much to it other than he was disappointed with the way the game was going and the way it was called."
5. The Lakers are handling the latest adversity with a mixed bag.
They displayed plenty of signs in showing they're not overreacting too much to the loss. Jackson playfully chided reporters for standing up upon his arrival to the post-game press conference as if he were President Obama. Artest joked about the team's Christmas Carol video montage that played on the Staples Center scoreboard. And Fisher revealed the team didn't find it necessary to have a post-game meeting, efforts he led two weeks ago following the Clippers win and after a sub-par performance last month against Minnesota.
"The shock of what just happened is enough for guys to go home," Fisher said. "It's easy to come in after a loss to speak out and beat up on guys. Sometimes it's not necessary."
That's because the team has shown plenty of signs they're very dissatisfied. Jackson's decision to give the team the day off Wednesday may not send the right message to a team that showed little effort, but it affords them rest after a long trip and forces the team to think about the loss to Milwaukee even longer. Bryant's decision to skip his post-game media obligations sent a stronger message than anything he may have uttered afterwards. The Lakers have shown in the past a great ability to ensure adversities don't lead to divisions. But sometimes it prolongs the Lakers' problems even more.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is called for an offensive foul after colliding with Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut during the second half of the Lakers' 98-79 loss Tuesday. Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / U.S. Presswire
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, tries to keep the ball away from Milwaukee guard John Salmons during the first half of the Lakers' 98-79 loss Tuesday. Credit: Danny Moloshok / Associated Press