Five things to take from Lakers' 104-85 loss to Memphis Grizzlies
1. The Lakers lack a foundation. Their 104-85 loss Sunday to the Memphis Grizzlies sparked a spattering of boos that sounded as half-effortless as the team's performance itself, marked the team's fourth loss in six games, served as the first time Memphis has beaten the Lakers at home since March 28, 2008 and resembled the same problems that have plagued them all season.
The Lakers ran no semblance of the triangle: The Lakers' strength involve setting up their big men, as Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom combined for 16 of the 18 points. They would score seven the rest of the game because the team's impatience with setting up the offense, poor entry passes from the backcourt and poor post position from the frontline. It's simply too lazy to chalk this up as the Lakers mailing in another performance. While that complacency is still a factor, it's the team's unwillingness to be patient in setting up the offense that's dooming this team.
"We're not getting into our sets, Bynum said. "Triangle is a two guard offense and we need to dedicate a side when we come down. A lot of times we have one guy at the top and we're looking like a shell from the outside and perimeter. I just think it's going to take a lot of work in practice and a lot of focus in us to get that back. we need to do it quick."
That lackadaisical effort has poured into other areas: The Lakers committed 20 turnovers, including five from Gasol (lack of court awareness), three from Kobe Bryant (has had a bulkier wrap on his right index finger), three from Ron Artest (forced entry passes) and three from Steve Blake (forced entry passes).
It resulted in Memphis scoring 28 points in transition, exposing the Lakers' unwillingness to get back to defend because of effort and inability to defend because of energy. The Lakers could minimize those mistakes simply had they run a proper offense.
When Memphis worked in a half-court set, Zach Randolph (21 points on nine of 17 shooting) exposed both Odom's and Gasol's slow reaction on defense. Rudy Gay (27 points on 10 of 19 shooting) exploited Artest and Matt Barnes for not closing him out on the perimeter. And several others in O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley and Tony Allen cracked double digits because no one picked them up on perimeter shots and drives to the lane.
"We're looking too far down the road instead of game in front of us," Bryant said. "That's what you have to do. You start skipping steps, you start to fall out of line."
The Lakers have recognized these issues, but have done little to correct them. They have the talent and ability to solve these problems, but aren't properly taking the time to ensure the fundamentals.
"We took for granted we'd been beaten in Memphis and everyone would come out and play better," Jackson said. "No one took responsibility on themselves to play better."
2. Kobe Bryant was justified in taking over in the third quarter. With the offense providing very little spark, Bryant took over the game in the third quarter, scored 17 of his team-leading 28 points in that time frame.His shot total represented 12 of the team's 22 shots, a clip that doesn't usually help team chemistry but was warranted because very little else was working and he went six of 12 from the field.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson appears to criticize Bryant, but it's laced with nuance that actually justifies his breaking out of the triangle.
"We get behind early in the third quarter on some stupid plays, poor passing and poor transition defense, Jackson said. "Kobe has to screw up the game and energize the team and going one on one, which takes the rest of the guys out. As a consequence. that didn't bring us back in it. It did give us a run and got back into it, but we couldnt sustain it."
Surely, Jackon's correct in noting Bryant scored 15 consecutive points and cut the Grizzlies' lead to 58-56 with 5:33 remaining in the third quarter, but the team allowed Memphis to end the period with a 79-62 lead. But Bryant wouldn't have taken over the game had the offense been working beforehand. The fact the Lakers' offense collapsed after Bryant's hot shooting wasn't a by product of his scoring spree because it wasn't even there in the first place.
"When a player gets hurt, myself or Pau or soemone like that, you try to ride it as much as you can," said Bryant. "It felt like we had no energy coming out of the second half so I tried to generate some of that. It started, but we weren't able to carry through."
On an unrelated note, Bryant expressed not a hint of concern for picking up five technical fouls in last six games: [Expletive] it. Don't care. I can afford it.".
3. Jackson suggested changes might come. The fan boos through Staples Center sounded as tepid as the Lakers played on the court. But they clearly agreed with the sentiments, ranging from Bryant ("We're playing like... They can boo all they want"), Bynum (I would've booed. I would've been mad"), Odom ("Fans are never wrong") and Barnes ("When we're playing that bad, we deserve to be booed").
But the dissatisfaction didn't just stop there.
"PJ drove it home to us that we'll start having consequences if we're not playing hard and not running the offense," Bynum said. "Right now, guys are comfortable."
Jackson suggested that he's going to limit playing time for those who don't play well defensively. He also suggested that his tendency to give the team off after trips and days before games will stop, a practice he has done because of concerns of keeping a veteran team healthy and energetic.
"One thing is about having a day off with this team is they lose focus," Jackson said. "They had a day off yesterday. I'll learn better from that."
Barnes didn't want to use that variable as a crutch: "Whether we have a day off or we don't, we have to play hard." Meanwhile, Bryant didn't buy Jackson's theory whatsoever: "That's bull...We've had days off and blown teams out so I'm not buying that Zen [stuff]."
"I think the big issue is individually finding things that motivate you and I'm pretty self motivated," Bryant said. "I think for guy it's important to find litlte challenges so they can get up every single night, whether it's reading one of your bull.. stories or whatever it is, find something that gets you going."
4. Andrew Bynum has bolstered the Lakers' defense, but it won't solve the Lakers' defensive problems Bynum's five blocks illustrates how his length and hustle has helped sharpen the Lakers' defensive rotations. But the Lakers can't conclude Bynum will immediately improve the team's defensive problems. They should be comforted he's stepping in as the last line of defense, but they can't use it as a crutch.
"With our defense right now," Bynum said, "it's putting me in that position."
5. The game got so bad that Joe Smith played. This is nothing against Smith. It's just that Jackson felt in no rush to get Smith playing time soon, considering he's still learning the triangle and there haven't been enough blowout victories to make him feel comfortable throwing him out there. Well, the Lakers just found an alternative. Fall behind by a team so much that Jackson feels that the Lakers can't overcome a 79-62 deficit entering the fourth quarter. Smith, Luke Walton and Derrick Caracter each entered with 4:34 remaining as the Lakers trailed 99-77, but Jackson also sat out Derek Fisher, Ron Artest and Bynum for the entire fourth quarter alone.
There's not much to read into Smith's one block and zero field goal attempts. He described his learning curve as "a work in progress" as he's still learning the terminology. But it's still telling that Jackson felt compelled enough to throw in the white flag.
"Every team goes through nights like this, but you don't want to make a habit out of it," said Smith, who joined his 12th NBA team in his 15-year career after the Lakers acquired him Dec. 14 in a three-team trade involving sending Sasha Vujacic to New Jersey. "Last week or so we've been struggling. We have veteran guys in the locker room to turn this thing around, but you dont want to wait until the last minute. When I first got here, talk was about having the best overall record in the NBA. If we keep playing like that, that won't happen."
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Photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol fouls Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay as they battle for a loose ball Sunday at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Memphis guard Tony Allen tries to cut off the drive of Lakers guard Kobe Bryant in the first half Sunday night at Staples Center. Credit: Lucy Nicholson / Reuters