Lakers shouldn't feel discouraged over loss to Bulls
Once the buzzer hit, Kobe Bryant stared ahead in frustration, Pau Gasol shook his head in despair and Lakers Coach Mike Brown wondered if he could have the game's last 54.6 seconds back.
The Lakers' 88-87 loss Christmas Day to the Chicago Bulls evaporated the holiday spirit among the 18,997 fans at Staples Center. Instead of delivering a Christmas Day victory, the Lakers dropped many lumps of coal.
That included free throws: both Josh McRoberts and Pau Gasol missed a pair at the line. That included bad decision-making: Bryant made a poor pass to Gasol that Luol Deng intercepted. And that included defense: Derek Fisher and Gasol hardly pressured Derrick Rose on his game winner the way three Bulls defenders did when Deng blocked Bryant's shot as time expired.
But the Lakers' even-keeled attitude in the locker room has to reflect more than window dressing. They have to maintain that determined, workmanlike attitude in what appears will be a challenging season.
"I'm upset obviously and frustrated with losing," Brown said. "But I have to make sure I keep things in perspective with this team and understand we still have a lot of basketball left."
And here's how to put the Lakers' loss in perspective: This is by no means a moral victory, but it's not a deflating loss either.
The Lakers may have held Chicago to 40.4% shooting for the game and 25% in the second half. That means little if the Lakers can't maintain a six-point lead in the final minute. The Lakers may have executed a well-run offense, including Bryant scoring 28 points on 11 of 23 shooting despite a strained ligament in his right wrist, Gasol playing aggressively (14 points) and role players Steve Blake (12 points), Devin Ebanks (eight points), McRoberts (six points), Andrew Goudelock and Troy Murphy (four points) showing promise. But it means little if they commit 17 turnovers and can't hit four free throws in the final minute. The Lakers simply can't afford these lapses in a shortened 66-game season.
"We beat ourselves in the end," Bryant said.
But here's why Laker fans shouldn't already proclaim the season lost and why Bryant uttered an adamant "no" when asked if this loss will prove to be too deflating. The Lakers missed free throws are an anamoly. Bryant will reduce his turnovers as his wrist heals more. And the other turnovers Brown attributed to the team making "too many home-run plays" reflect the Lakers' learning curve with his system.
"When things become habits and you stop thinking about them, you're just playing," Bryant said. "That's when you become a really good team."
The Lakers' current problems juxtapose previous years. They used to lose games because they didn't try. But they remained optimistic because of the team's familiarity. Against Chicago, they lost because of their unfamiliarity. But they remain optimistic because of their effort. As their loss to the Bulls proved, adopting Brown's grind-it-out mentality won't always secure victories. But unless the Lakers' front office makes a blockbuster deal, they have no other choice.
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