Lakers' 97-82 loss to San Antonio Spurs reveals systematic problems
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant arrived at At&T Center Tuesday for early shooting, hoping that would set the example for dogged preparation and trickle into the game against San Antonio. He publicly undressed his teammates after an embarrassing Christmas Day loss to Miami and reiterated his sentiments in a more subdued manner during the team's shootaround, hoping his demanding comments would light a fuse into his team. And he continued shooting throughout the contest against the Spurs, believing his scoring mentality would eventually lift the Lakers out of their current malaise.
Instead, the Lakers' 97-82 loss Tuesday to the San Antonio Spurs revealed the same problems. The immediate worries: the Lakers (21-10) are trailing the Spurs (26-5) by six games for first place in the Western Conference standings. The Lakers suffered their third consecutive loss for the second time this season. And they have experienced these defeats by an average of 16 points, the first time since March 2007 that the Lakers have lost three consecutive games by double-digit margins.
The long-term worries: The Lakers appear nowhere near solving their current problems, though they'll have an opportunity to try Wednesday at New Orleans. Don't chalk this up to the Lakers mailing in a performance, however. The Lakers appeared very engaged, beginning with a Derek Fisher deflection and Bryant scoring eight of the team's first 10 points and ending with a 44-42 halftime lead and holding San Antonio to 40% shooting. But then the second half happened, where the Spurs outscored the Lakers by 17 points, held the Lakers to a team-high 35.4% mark from the field and featured four players in double digits, including the usual suspect in Tony Parker (23 points on 10 of 18 shooting), the continual improvement in Richard Jefferson (15 points), a season-high performance in DeJuan Blair (17 points on eight of 14 shooting and 17 rebounds) and bench support in George Hill (10 points).
The problems pointed to the top at Bryant, who with words demanded excellence but with actions displayed selfishness. His 21-point performance on eight of 27 shooting began with him positively setting the tone with a four of five mark but then negatively hurting the team with 13 consecutive misses. Through it all, Bryant refused to adjust to game scenarios, going one of of five in the third quarter, using three consecutive jumpers in the fourth quarter as false comfort he could lift the team back and even at one point waving away a screen so he could dribble and post up despite meeting double coverage.
"If I was playing, I probably wouldn't pass him the ball the next time," Jackson told reporters.
The problems pointed in other directions. Lakers forward Pau Gasol had what Jackson described to reporters as a "bad game," finishing with nine points on three of eight shooting and displaying similar qualities that ailed him against Miami, including poor lift, hesitation, slow reaction on drives to the lane and unwillingness to find other ways to remain effective on a poor shooting night. Lakers forward Lamar Odom, who had played consistently for most of the season, scored only nine points on three of nine shooting, made lazy passes, was yanked for failing to box out Blair and appeared too passive to take over.
The Lakers appeared reluctant to accept that they've regressed in three-point shooting, going from a 41.2% clip in November to a 30.9% mark in December. Instead their eight of 23 mark provided another example why the Lakers need to work the ball inside. The only bright spot pointed to Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who had an efficient 10 points on four of four shooting in only 22 minutes, but even that presented some problems. That included his two of eight mark from the free-throw line, Steve Blake's poor entry passes to him and the team's overall unwillingness to grant him more opportunities.
All this disjointed mess points to the top where there's very little leadership and direction. Poor shot selection from Bryant and Fisher (one of four) trickled down to the backcourt reserves in Shannon Brown (one of 11) and Blake (one of six). Bryant and Fisher also displayed poor leadership. Bryant drew a technical foul for the third consecutive game, feeding into Hill's effort in baiting him. Fisher drew a technical foul after running halfcourt to Jefferson after he knocked him from behind. And Jackson's hands-off approach resulted in his players running around aimlessly.
The Lakers can solve these problems. But as they painfully found out in a critical game against a Western Conference team, that task requires a foundation and not an off/on switch.
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Photo: Lakers Coach Phil Jackson questions a call during the third quarter of the Lakers' 97-82 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday. Credit: Eric Gay / Associated Press.
Photo: Lakers forward Pau Gasol, left, shoots over San Antonio forward Matt Bonner during the first half of the Lakers' 97-82 loss Tuesday. Credit: Soobum Im / U.S. Presswire