The Lakers end seven-game trip on worst note with 104-99 loss to Cleveland Cavaliers
The Lakers with their 104-99 loss Wednesday to the Cleveland Cavaliers concluded a seven-game trip at 4-3, marked their third consecutive defeat and erased any positive feelings coming out of their 4-0 start, including a signature victory over the Boston Celtics. The Lakers enter the All-Star break with plenty of things to correct, but with no practice time to do it. And those believing a few days off could help the team rest are forgetting that there are plenty of the festivities surrounding All-Star weekend in Los Angeles.
It's debatable that the Lakers' loss to Cleveland would have more significant long-term implications than their much-needed victory against Boston, but that's not how the Lakers should think right now. Having Quickens Loans Arena drop confetti after the league's worst team beat the two-time reigning champions should be humiliating enough. Knowing that this loss came after a similarly poor effort only two days ago in a double-digit loss to Charlotte should dent the pride even more. But for far too long, the Lakers have maintained too much of a big-picture perspective, knowing the end result really points to the team's health and ability to ratchet up the intensity once the playoffs start. But the Lakers so far are showing patterns that they're overlooking the small steps needed to evolve into a championship contender.
It was a little more than a month ago when the Lakers defeated the Cavaliers by 55 points, which marked the beginning of Cleveland's 26-game losing streak and gave the Lakers a refreshed attitude as they took pride in sharpening their habits regardless of the opponent they faced. That proved to be far from the case Wednesday as the Lakers committed 19 turnovers, allowing 17 fast-break points, conceded 50 points in the paint, allowed reserve guard Ramon Sessions to set a season high in points (32) and Anthony Parker to tie a career high in assists (nine).
No Laker was immune from blame. Kobe Bryant's 17 points on eight-of-24 shooting, seven turnovers, four personal fouls and one technical provided signs that his flu is still bothering him, he's allowing frustration to affect his shot selection and his composure, and his inability to focus is leading to mistakes he normally doesn't bring. Andrew Bynum's six points on two-of-12 shooting entailed a missed opportunity for taking advantage of open looks two days after complaining about a lack of touches. Lamar Odom's six points on two-of-six shooting revealed a passivity on offense and defense that's been fairly minimnal in his most consistent season. And Ron Artest continued his disappearing act, with his one shot -- a miss -- showing he's not involving himself at all and his immediate postgame tweet highlighting his mix tape revealed poor prioritizing.
The lone highlights -- Pau Gasol's 30 points on eight-of-15 shooting, Derek Fisher's 19 points on eight-of-12 shooting and Shannon Brown's 15 points on seven-of-14 shooting -- kept the Lakers in a game that otherwise appeared lopsided. But they also contributed to the loss, including when the Lakers came back. After Fisher's three-pointer tied the score at 82-82 with 6:16 remaining in the game, the Cavaliers responded with a 9-0 run on sequences that defined the Lakers' poor play. Parker cut across the lane and received a pass from Sessions, but Gasol didn't mark out. Fisher forced a drive baseline and committed an offensive foul and then got knocked over on a down screen that set up Parker's wide-open three-pointer. A forced Fisher layup then led Sessions performing an up-and-under layup past Gasol. And a contested three-pointer from Brown and put-back from Odom led to Sessions driving through traffic once again. Bryant's contested three-pointer at the top of the key with the Lakers trailing 99-95 with 26 seconds remaining made the result all but official.
But this game wasn't lost in the fourth quarter. It was lost with a lack of effort and poor execution throughout the entire game. Whether it was Bryant picking up his second foul and then drawing a technical with only 5:37 left in the first quarter that sparked an 11-2 Cleveland run, Parker's uncontested jumper capping an 8-0 run to end the first half, Christian Eyenga blowing past Bryant and Gasol for a poster-type slam or the Cavaliers' 9-0 run in the fourth, the Lakers rarely appeared engaged in the game.
Perhaps a week-long frustration that spans All-Star weekend will build up within the team, prompting them to work harder. Perhaps their most embarrassing loss will provide the jump-start to the consistency the Lakers sorely lacked. Or perhaps things will remain the same. It's nearly impossible to predict how the Lakers will respond because they haven't shown a definitive pattern all season, a current problem that seems to have no end.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who made only eight of 24 shots from the field, elevates for a layup against Cavaliers guard Anthony Parker in the first half Wednesday night. Credit: Jason Miller / US Presswire