Lakers lack intensity and execution in 86-85 loss to Utah Jazz
The clock ticked away with the ball in his hands.
That's the cue for Lakers guard Kobe Bryant to make a game-winning shot. At first, it appeared he would follow the storyline the 18,8891 at Staples Center had seen plenty of times. He dribbled to his right, pump faked and then pivoted to his left. With 1.8 seconds remaining, there was more than enough time for Bryant to pull up for a jumper, secure the game winner, and all the anxious fans would go home happy.
Instead, the ball went off his fingertips, bounced off his knee and provided an ugly ending to an ugly 86-85 loss Tuesday to the Utah Jazz, the Lakers' second consecutive defeat.
"It slipped," Bryant said of the final play. "It slipped out of my hands."
That's not the only reason the game slipped out of the Lakers' hands. You also can't entirely blame Bryant's six-of-18 shooting clip -- or the fact that Utah guard Gordon Hayward hit one of two free throws and impressed Bryant enough with his 22-point performance on nine-of-14 shooting, including a one-handed dunk, that the Lakers star compared the rookie guard to former Jazz standout Jeff Hornacek.
There are plenty of reasons why Lakers forward Lamar Odom described the team's effort as the worst loss of the season, but he implored reporters not to spend much time dwelling on it.
"You can't dissect this game," Odom said. "There's nothing there. You can't find nothing. Don't get intricate in your writing. Don't do it. We played bad, really bad. It's time to move on."
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson opened his press conference joking, "I wish Gordon Hayward would've stayed in college and helped out Butler last night instead of kicking our butts tonight."
Bryant expressed plenty of amusement, not only with the Lakers' lackluster play but also his recent Sprite commercial with Chinese pop singer Jay Chou. Odom laughed at the comparisons between the Lakers-Jazz game and the horrific NCAA national championship game between Connecticut and Butler.And Lakers guard Derek Fisher didn't blink once when informed the Lakers' (55-22) loss set them 3 1/2 games behind the San Antonio Spurs (59-19) for first place in the Western Conference and two games behind the Chicago Bulls (57-20), who own the Eastern Conference's best record.
"We're definitely not helping ourselves in that regard," Fisher said. "But like we've been doing, which allowed us to have the success we've been having the last couple of months, is we mainly focused on ourselves. We haven't spent a lot of time about other people's performances and what their record is and whatnot. Regardless of how we finish these last five or six games, and if we have homecourt or not, the reality of it is, we have to play the type of basketball we're capable of playing to beat the best teams. Obviously, homecourt by losing to Denver on Sunday and losing to Utah on Sunday. You can have homecourt against San Antonio, Chicago, Dallas, Miami and Boston. Obviously, if we can't beat teams on our homecourt, it's irrelevant. We just have to play better."
The Lakers have long fixated more on their own performance than how they fare in the standings races, reflecting their strong belief that they shouldn't feel the need to avoid playing certain teams in the playoffs. It's also necessary to point out the Lakers are 17-3 since the All-Star game, and a two-game losing streak isn't going to dilute that with five games remaining in the regular season. But the dropoff in effort and execution against Utah was in stark contrast to the impressive performances prior to the two-game losing streak. Unlike the Lakers' 95-90 loss Sunday to Denver, they can't blame an afternoon game or lost energy from an emotional win against Dallas and a come-from-behind victory against Utah the previous week. The Lakers' performance clearly showed their complacency and sense of invincibility kicking in, eager for the start of playoffs.
That attitude was seen throughout the game. Beautiful sequences, such as Shannon Brown's fadeaway jumper, Odom's three-pointer, Bynum's two hook shots, Bryant's floater, Gasol's hook shot, Artest's three-pointer and Odom's reverse layup were quickly overshadowed in the fourth quarter with turnovers by Bynum, Bryant, Gasol and Luke Walton and Bryant getting stuffed. After drawing an offensive foul on Hayward, Kobe shot a wildly contested three-pointer with his jersey in his mouth with the Lakers trailing 85-82 with under a minute remaining. Bryant made up for it, tying the game at 85-85 with 16.2 seconds remaining, thanks a to a three-pointer off Gasol's screen on Hayward. But Odom reacted too late in closing off the lane on Hayward, resulting in a foul that wrongfully went to Bryant. That set up Hayward to hit one of two free throws and then Bryant's poor ball handling on the final possession.
The whole performance reflected their attitude, with the Lakers shooting 31 of 82 from the field, four of 20 from three-point range, getting outrebounded against an undermanned and undersized Jazz team (52-49), conceding 15 second-chance points and the Jazz scoring 18 points off the Lakers' 19 turnovers. It was seen in the Lakers' bench, featuring a scoreless Steve Blake, a streaky Odom and Brown and a passive Barnes.
"We didn't execute what we practiced today," Jackson said. "That's something the coaches aren't happy about."
Theories conflicted as to why Gasol's apparent effort in overcoming his bruised right knee with 12 first-quarter points only ended with 19 by the end of the night.
"We tend to settle a little too much and went with tougher percentage shots instead of going to higher percentage shots," said Gasol, who added there was "pain" and "soreness" in his right knee. "We had a size advantage and I don't know how well we utilized it tonight."
"We didn't feature him like we featured him early in the game," Jackson said of Gasol. "Kobe didn't score much in the first half, and he came out and shot in the second half. Pau obviously took a backseat to that."
"I don't ... know," Bryant said. "I'm at my wits' end with this garbage."
Answers ranged on why the Lakers played so poorly.
"We're just trying to go through the motions," Bryant said. "It was my fault. I should've came out much more aggressive to set the tone instead of being passive."
"We're going out and trying to play hard," Brown said. "There's no lack of confidence. We just have to continue to get better. We didn't take them lightly at all. We were playing hard."
"We didn't come to play and the intensity wasn't there for 48 minutes like it needed to be," Blake said. "I have no idea why. I don't know."
Surely, there was nothing great to take away from this game.
"Out of this game?" Bryant asked rhetorically. "No. Flush that ... down the toilet and move on to the next one."
OK, maybe there was one. Bynum recorded a career-high 23 rebounds. But he wasn't really in the mood to talk about it.
"Tonight was a case of us coming out and thinking we could beat a team just by being there," Bynum said. "I don't know why we talk to ourselves like that. We know if we come to play, no one can beat us."
The Lakers didn't come to play, though. They reverted to that complacent attitude that contributed to such poor habits before the All-Star break. The Lakers spent 18 games correcting most of those bad habits. It only took two games for them to come back. The Lakers are surely eager for the playoffs to start, but it's necessary to look like a playoff team as the postseason schedule approaches.
-- Mark Medina
E-mail the Lakers blog at firstname.lastname@example.org
Top photo: Kobe Bryant looks at his hands after fumbling the ball away on a last-second shot attempt during the Lakers' 86-85 loss to the Utah Jazz at Staples Center, April 5, 2011. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times
Middle photo: Utah forward Derrick Favors, right, blocks a shot by Lakers forward Pau Gasol during the second half. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times
Bottom photo: Lakers center Andrew Bynum, right, tries to put a shot past Favors during the second half. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times