Five things to take away from the Lakers' 98-92 Game 3 loss to Dallas Mavericks
Other than the fourth-quarter collapses, which I detail here, and my belief that the Lakers can't come back from a 0-3 deficit, here are five other things to take away from the Lakers' 98-92 Game 3 loss Friday to the Dallas Mavericks.
1. Pau Gasol continues to unravel. It almost became too painful to watch. His 12-point performance on five-of-13 shooting featured him leaving Dirk Nowitzki wide open from three-point range, Phil Jackson berating and even pushing him on the sideline and his frustrations continuing to boil over. We have never seen Gasol operate at such a low level, and the reasons are beyond comprehension. He's had an inconsistent stretch this season starting with fatigue from filling in for Andrew Bynum during his 24-game absence while rehabbing his surgically repaired knee. That created a trickle-down effect where he mentally checked out in certain games, lacked aggressiveness and cut corners on defense. But his latest effort in Game 3 goes beyond much more than that.
Just when it seemed like he was turning around, by hitting a late jumper he left Nowitzki wide open on the next play. After taking a charge on Nowitzki, Gasol forced up a jumper. As much as the Lakers are frustrated with him, particularly Jackson, at this point pointing fingers at him and yelling at him is simply the equivalent of kicking a person while he's down. Believe me, he deserves all the criticism thrown at him right now and no one should be making excuses for him.
That's why I found it perplexing and distasteful to see his teammates provide positive reinforcement during Game 2, but realized during Game 3 that they simply don't have any other choice. For the practical purpose of giving the Lakers their best shot at winning Game 4, the Lakers can't make him feel any more fragile than he already is. Nonetheless, the responsibility falls on Gasol to shape up. Whatever is bothering Gasol mentally, he simply has to let it go. Unfortunately for the Lakers, this lack of confidence and aggressiveness came during the postseason, resulting in a playoff average of 13.6 points and 7.8 rebounds, a dropoff from his regular-season averages of 18.8 points and 7.8 rebounds.
2. The Lakers' defensive rotations remain an issue. Forget the final score. Take a look at the fourth-quarter collapses outlined here. The Lakers suffered defensively in Game 3 the same way they did in Game 2. When Dirk Nowitzki scored each of his 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting, he was either left wide open, causing frustrated looks afterward, or he made contested shots, eliciting the same reaction. Nowitzki is honestly going to score no matter what the Lakers do. That doesn't mean they don't defend him, but they can't get so consumed with how he scores because it's going to happen. The Lakers carried that same frustration with defending the perimeter, allowing Dallas' screen-and-rolls to throw the Lakers off base. Usually they were exceptional in rotating older on the first switch, but often failed miserably on the second.
3. Andrew Bynum backed up his strong words with strong play, but he didn't get the ball enough late in the game.The inescapable image of Bynum came at the end of the second quarter, when he capped off a steal with a fast-break two-handed slam. His 21 points on nine-of-16 effort and 10 rebounds backed up his comments following the Lakers' Game 2 loss when he revealed the team had "trust issues." I knew the quotes would get a lot of mileage, but his interview didn't really provide the illustration some painted him as a young, immature player losing his composure and pointing fingers. Bynum's always even-keeled and has zero filter so he was just being honest. He didn't name anyone specifically and spoke in general terms, even blaming himself on a poor defensive effort. And he expressed optimism that the team would fix it. Most importantly, he was right that the Lakers have trust issues, including defensive rotations, sharing the ball and not allowing Dallas' strong play to overwhelm them.
Still, it was good to see Bynum back up his words with his own strong play. It's puzzling, however, why the Lakers mysteriously went away from him in the fourth quarter, when he only had two field goal attempts. With how poorly the Lakers closed out in the last quarter, his production surely could've secured a win. Too bad not many of Bynum's teammates didn't live up to his calling.
4. Lamar Odom filled in nicely for Ron Artest at small forward. Odom's 18 points on eight of 16 shooting breathed some life in the Lakers' frontline, particularly with Gasol's struggles. With the exception of mishandling Derek Fisher's poor inbounds pass in the final seconds and missing a field goal late in the game, Odom provided the necessary hustle points and dependable shots that defined his game. Odom also struggled on defensive rotations, but then again so did everybody else.
5. Kobe Bryant played well except in the fourth quarter. The image of Bryant getting up and hugging Shannon Brown struck me because it epitomized the patient demeanor he's tried to display all series. With a few exceptions, Bryant has maintained an even keel throughout the series. As much as the Lakers should be criticized for not making the proper effort, Bryant clearly recognizes that some of his teammates, namely Gasol, are fragile, so from a pure practical standpoint, it would be counterproductive for him to unleash. He took a similar approach to the game where he picked his spots facilitating and scoring, playing always within the proper constructs of the offense.
-- Mark Medina
Photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol looks to swipe the ball from Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki as he drives down the lane in Game 3 on Friday night in Dallas. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times