Lakers appear fatigued in 89-75 loss to the Orlando Magic
They shared the same enthusiasm when they grudgingly closed out on the perimeter, the delayed reactions spurring the Magic to shoot seven of 23 from three-point range. They shared the same passion when Pau Gasol didn't box out Magic center Dwight Howard, whose 31 points on 13-of-16 shooting and 13 rebounds nearly outscored the Lakers' team leaders in Kobe Bryant (17 points on eight-of-18 shooting) and Gasol (17 points on five-of-12 shooting). And they showed the same flatness when shooting 39.3% from the field on a 33-of-84 clip and 46.7% from the free-throw line on a seven-of-15 mark.
Were the Lakers tired? Perhaps, considering this game marked the fifth of a seven-game trip that's included stops in New Orleans, Memphis, Boston and New York. Were the Lakers complacent? Maybe, since the they entered the game with a 4-0 mark on the Grammy trip and felt much more confident than perhaps a week ago where their track record lacked consistency and marquee victories. Or are all these just excuses?
Not quite. Chalking up the Lakers' loss to fatigue may appear as lazy as the officials who missed Gilbert Arenas stepping out of bounds before Howard dunked his airball at the end of the third quarter. Blaming the Lakers' loss on boredom may sound as predictable as knowing the Lakers' success falters when Bryant's shooting aim is off the mark, its inside presence fails and their perimeter shooting continues to be non-existent. Summing up the Lakers' defeat to a lack of aggressiveness may prove as inaccurate as the supposed trade talks between the Lakers and Nuggets involving Andrew Bynum and Carmelo Anthony.
The Lakers lost because they simply didn't execute, a point Lakers Coach Phil Jackson reiterated when the Lakers entered the fourth quarter trailing 67-60. "We lost all three quarters," Jackson said on an ESPN "Wired" segment. "These first three minutes are a critical three minutes for us." But all those bouts of inconsistency pointed to the Lakers' fatigue, boredom and lack of aggressiveness. The Lakers then proved, like they did for most of the game, that the problem pointed to flashes of brilliance and plenty of lapses than just having a bad game period. A Lamar Odom missed 10-footer, a Shannon Brown offensive foul and Bynum missed 14-footer was followed by Steve Blake and Bynum connecting inside, Odom forcing a turnover and drawing two fouls that led to making three of four free throws before three more consecutive missed shots.
Yet, the Lakers' loss means very little in their big-picture development. Surely, it doesn't help with the Lakers (38-17) trailing the Dallas Mavericks (38-16) by half a game and it widens to 7 1/2 games their deficit to San Antonio (45-9) for the top spot in the Western Conference. But the Lakers can quickly brush past this since they play Monday at Charlotte and the Magic's dependency on outside shooting won't push them too far in the playoffs. And the performance simply served as a reminder that the Lakers should respond with any progression or regression in season's play with a level-headed attitude.
It was hard to ignore, however, how the Lakers' inconsistency to open the fourth quarter provided a microcosm to everything else that happened in the game. After the Lakers thought they neutralized Howard because of three first-half fouls, he stormed out in the second half and exploited the Lakers' spacey interior defense, the only contention coming when Odom's elbow caused a gash under his right eye with 1:54 remaining. After the Lakers thought Bynum continued to prove why his presence matters for the team's success with nine points, five offensive rebounds, one assist and one steal in the first quarter, he scored eight the rest of the way because of deteriorating lift and timing and possibly because of an injured knee, going over to the sideline at one point for Lakers trainer Gary Vitti to look at him. And after Bryant created the perfect balance between scoring (six-of-12 shooting) and facilitating in the first half, a more deliberate Orlando defense limited him to two field goals in the second half.
The Lakers displayed this maddening inconsistency perfectly in what ESPN analyst Hubie Brown compared to play in the Las Vegas Summer League. In a span of two minutes, Odom lost the ball to Hedo Turkoglu, he stepped out of bounds, Brown and Odom made consecutive jumpers, Orlando made consecutive turnovers and Blake and Brown combined for three consecutive missed three-point shots. Over a span of 48 minutes, the Lakers continued this pattern. And in a span of 24 hours, the Lakers will have completely forgotten about this game and have moved on to their next stop at Charlotte.
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Photo: Magic center Dwight Howard and Lakers power forward Pau Gasol battle for a rebound in the first half Sunday. Credit: Preston Mack / EPA