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Five reasons the Lakers struggle in closing out games

January 2, 2012 | 12:21 pm

Kobe Bryant1. The Lakers lack familiarity. Through six games, the Lakers are showing the ill effects of a shortened training camp, the learning curve to Mike Brown's new system and adjusting to new teammates. It's indisputable that the first month of a compressed 66-game schedule will feature ugly turns like this.

2. The Lakers lack the little things. That's why the team's 92-89 victory Saturday over the Denver Nuggets proved so satisfying. Plays, such as Derek Fisher diving for a loose ball and Steve Blake chasing down Danilo Gallinari to rattle him during an open layup, epitomize how the Lakers will have to grind out victories. But in their three losses, they hardly had those qualities.

In their season-opening loss to Chicago, both Josh McRoberts and Pau Gasol missed free throws.  In their loss to Sacramento, the Lakers made one field goal in the final 3:48, granted the Kings seven free throws in the final three minutes  and lacked the necessary ball movement. And in their most recent loss to Denver, the Lakers hardly got back in transition and didn't make any field goals in the final 2:30. 

3. Kobe Bryant. Bryant is hardly living up to his widely held reputation as the league's best closer. Instead, he's just bolstering critics' claims that he's not a clutch player.

Against Chicago, Bryant threw an ill-advised pass to Gasol that set up Derrick Rose's game-winning shot. Even if Lakers Coach Mike Brown supported Bryant taking the final shot, going one-on-three in an isolation set hardly proved to be a good idea. In the Lakers' losses to Sacramento and Denver, Bryant remained trigger-happy. He shot 10 of 24 against the Kings and six of 28 against the Nuggets.

It's understandable to some degree why Bryant averages a team-leading 4.67 turnovers per game since he currently has a torn ligament in his right wrist. It's absolutely inexcusable, however, for Bryant to take such a large volume of shots when he's not making them. 

4. Three-point shooting. On paper, the Lakers have bolstered perimeter shooting with the additions of Jason Kapono and Troy Murphy and a more confident Steve Blake. But it's clear that this unit remains inconsistent. The Lakers have averaged a 16.4% clip from downtown in their three losses, while they've shot 30.4% in their three wins. The Lakers tread a fine line on this issue. They are correctly following Brown's lead in maintaining their confidence in taking open shots. But one longtime NBA coach told me a few years ago that the best way to alleviate a shooting slump involves taking one step forward during an open shot. It's much easier to reestablish rhythm that way. 

5. Defense. The Lakers have improved in understanding their defensive scheme. But in the final minutes of the game, the defense has collapsed in transition and rotating on the weakside when they need help. The Nuggets outscored L.A. 9-0 in the final 2:30 that included two open drives to the basket and one open jumper. Meanwhile, Chicago outscored the Lakers 12-2 in the last 1:58. 


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Five things to take away from Lakers-Nuggets game

— Mark Medina

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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives around Nuggets guard Danilo Gallinari in the second half of their game on Sunday in Denver. Credit: Chris Schneider / Associated Press / Jan. 1, 2012