Lakers' 109-100 loss to Mavericks demonstrates inconsistency in carrying momentum
In almost a single-file motion, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Steve Blake, Pau Gasol and Shannon Brown trudged their way toward the locker room in American Airlines Arena with different expressions on their faces.
The Lakers were just minutes removed from a 109-100 loss Wednesday to the Dallas Mavericks and the varying movements, ranging from Bryant, Blake and Brown staring straight ahead, Odom wiping his face with his jersey and Gasol looking at the ground revealed the unanimous frustration the Lakers currently face. That's expected after a loss, but the reasons why the team's frustration level remain high point to their seemingly inability to capitalize off any momentum they build during stretches of the season. Instead, any morsels of progress come crashing down into a head-scratching loss that makes the Lakers feel they lost the little ounce of momentum they once had.
The Lakers' latest setback isn't as devastating as what the Mavericks faced, entering the contest losers of nine of their last 11 games, including a six-game stretch, in no small part to Caron Butler's season-ending right knee injury. but the latest loss could feel equally as frustrating. The Lakers have been down this route before, returning to Los Angeles in late December off a 6-1 trip only to lose to Milwaukee, Miami and San Antonio by double-digit margins. The Lakers overcame that adversity with a seven-game winning streak, only to throw those bad habits away with a loss to the Clippers that featured the Lakers getting outworked and overwhelmed against a speedy and youthful team. No doubt, the Lakers experienced similar issues Monday against Oklahoma City, but the team's collective unity resulted in the Lakers' most impressive win to date.
That they couldn't carry that over to Dallas wasn't just disappointing because the loss drops the Lakers record to (31-13) and their mark against winning teams to 5-6. It's that it continued a pattern of where it failed to carry over momentum. The Lakers inability to do that all season serves as the primary reason Lakers Coach Phil Jackson gave his team a B grade at nearly the halfway point of the season, and laid out a pretty detailed expectation on what would warrant an A.
"I'd like to see us put a string of games together," Jackson said. "I think that's really important to gain the kind of confidence you have and what you're doing out there regardless of your opponents and go through a space of time in which you get a certain sense of a winning streak and keep it going. There's going to be bad games, games that are close and tight or whatever but you find ways to win and those are the kind of things that send you over the top in the season."
The Lakers didn't do that, with various factors negating several areas of progress, including Bryant's continued efficiency (21 points on 10-of-18 shooting, 10 assists and four rebounds), Gasol's willingness to fight through slow starts with increased aggressiveness on defense and renewed confidence on offense (23 points on 11-of-16 shooting), the continued consistency from Lamar Odom (20 points) in hitting timely shots and leading runs and Blake beginning to finally hit shots (three of four). As the Lakers saw against the Dallas, those areas may not amount to much if other variables aren't as sharp.
Allowing Dallas to go on an 11-0 second-quarter run and committing seven-third quarter turnovers en route to a 15-4 lapse further exposed the Lakers' weakness in remaining trigger happy from the outside and failing to get back on transition defense. Jason Kidd notched a season-high 21 on eight-of-12 shooting after going 28 of 109 (25.6%) in Dallas' nine recent losses, and Jason Terry's continued success against the Lakers (22 points on nine-of-15 shooting) revealed the Lakers' unwillingness to fully commit to perimeter defense. And Jackson kept the Lakers' reserves in a game they couldn't maintain a lead, demonstrated most notably by Luke Walton's two ill-advised jumpers that resulted in the Mavericks jumping out to a 90-77 lead with 9:04 remaining.
Just like the Lakers' recent setbacks, they valiantly reworked their foundation with Odom (12) and Bryant (nine) scoring 21 of the remaining 23 points, but poor defensive communication resulted in zero stops.
Surely, the Lakers can and will rebound from this loss. The only uncertainty is whether they can reach Jackson's goal in compiling a significant winning streak against significant opponents, an effort the Lakers have shown all season still needs more work.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, takes a shot as Dallas center Tyson Chandler tries to stop him during the Lakers' 109-100 loss Wednesday. Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.