Lakers continue poor effort in 95-87 loss to Golden State Warriors
Walking nearly side by side, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Coach Phil Jackson walked out of a tunnel at Oracle Arena and conversed. There's no use trying to lipread what was on the television screen, but the Lakers' 95-87 loss Wednesday to the Golden State Warriors provides plenty of conversation starters.
The most tempting of course points to the standings implications. The Lakers (55-23) can rule out catching San Antonio (60-19) for the top spot for the Western Conference; the Lakers in the midst of a three-game losing streak and San Antonio having won three consecutive games to lock up the top seeding. The Lakers also shouldn't be surprised if they can't match up with the Chicago Bulls (57-20), winners of four consecutive games, or stay ahead of Boston (54-23). And the Lakers with four games remaining in the regular season aren't exactly solidifying their stake for second place in the Western Conference, owning only a 2 1/2-game edge for second place over Dallas (53-25), though the Mavericks have suffered a four-game losing streak.
No, the most disturbing question is how did the Lakers suddenly morph from a playoff-bound team that went 17-1 following the All-Star break into a disinterested squad that just lost three consecutive games? The difference, statistically speaking, appears staggering. The Lakers during their 12-1 effort in March averaged 101.2 points, 45.2 rebounds, 21.8 assists and 7.8 steals a game, all signs the Lakers looked mostly engaged in ball movement and effort. Through only three games in April, the Lakers have averaged 93 points, 42 rebounds, 19 assists and 5.5 steals, all signs that the ball movement has been sporadic and the effort has been spotty.
I explained in great detail that it's a misnomer the Lakers can simply flip a switch and play good basketball or else their play during their 17-1 run would've happened earlier in the season. But it's very plausible the Lakers can simply flip a switch and play bad basketball, letting all their hard work simply go to waste. What it means in the big picture is that the Lakers' losses were a happy ending for Utah's and Golden State's otherwise sourful seasons. It's also plausible that one game seeing how Denver thrives with more teamwork and less Carmelo Anthony will prepare them should they meet the Nuggets in the playoffs. Regardless of what this means in the long run doesn't matter. It simply needs to stop.
These are the games where starters should be enjoying rest because Jackson is readying them for the postseason and the Lakers are putting together double-digit leads. Instead, Lakers forward Pau Gasol sat for most of the fourth quarter because his 18 points on seven-of-11 shooting also came with a lack of aggressiveness on both ends of the floor. These are the games where Bryant should be enjoying the fact that he doesn't have to carry much of the load. Instead, he entered the game with 6:13 remaining in the game and scored 10 of his team-leading 25 points in hopes it could salvage a late-game, come-from-behind victory. These are the games where the bench should enjoy more opportunities and savor the increased playing time knowing it will be more limited once the postseason starts. Instead the Lakers' reserves once again blew a second-quarter lead that never become retrievable.
The only thing remotely positive to come out of this game was Andrew Bynum's rebounding (17 boards) and the Lakers' strong start, going on a 10-0 run to open the game. Both Bynum, Bryant and Gasol nailed turnaround jumpers. Bryant stole the ball and pulled up for a jumper on the left block and Bynum fed two dump passes that set up open mid-range shots for both Gasol and Derek Fisher. Just like that, it appeared the Lakers put their poor effort against Utah behind them.
But not quite. Despite Jackson's effort in integrating both Bynum and Gasol with the reserves, they still allowed Golden State to put together a 10-0 run and take the lead at 24-23. As entertaining as it was to see Bryant go for a reverse layup in the fourth quarter dra a foul for a three-point play, hit a long jumper off a pick and roll and drive to the basket with ease late in the game as well as Matt Barnes explode for six points in 22 seconds, the Lakers should've never gotten to that point.
It's easy to treat the remaining regular-season games as a nuisance, knowing the playoffs are quickly approaching. But the Lakers should be at their peak once the postseason starts, and the Lakers are nowhere near resembling what they should be once that time comes.
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Photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol sits on the bench during the fourth quarter of Wednesday night's 95-87 loss to Golden State at Oracle Arena. Credit: Kyle Terada / US Presswire / April 6, 2011