Five things to take away from Lakers-Nuggets game
1. Kobe Bryant was a ball hog. It's completely fair and accurate to pin the Lakers' 99-90 loss Sunday to the Denver Nuggets to a large extent on Bryant, who scored 16 points on six-for-28 shooting. The 22 missed shots overshadowed Bryant's becoming the sixth NBA player (and the youngest) and second guard behind Michael Jordan to score 28,000 points. Said Channel 9's Bill Macdonald: "For Kobe, a historic night for all the wrong reasons."
Bryant is entitled to a bad shooting night and he has unmatched confidence in overcoming a slump. But let's be real. Many of his shots are contested. There also comes a point in a game when Bryant needs to understand he doesn't have his shot that night. So simply adjust. On Saturday against the Nuggets, Bryant faced similar double teams, but he responded by facilitating and rebounding. On Sunday, he simply gunned. To make matters worse, Bryant provided little on defense, committed six turnovers and often argued with officials over calls.
Lakers Coach Mike Brown has already publicly criticized Bryant on his defensive effort during the preseason. Now it's time for Brown to acknowledge the obvious. Bryant's trigger-happy tendencies single-handedly cost the Lakers the game.
2. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum remained impressive, but they weren't used enough. One of the consequences of Bryant's shooting tendencies was the Lakers' not utilizing their size advantage enough. Gasol and Bynum combined for 38 points on 15 for 27 shooting and 27 rebounds. So clearly, this wasn't one of those nights when the Lakers' bigs didn't deserve touches. Had Bryant chosen to pass inside more often instead of shoot, it's likely the Lakers' inside game would've flourished even more.
3. The Lakers played sloppy. Aside from a more energetic third quarter, the Lakers hardly looked like a good basketball team. Blame it on playing a back-to-back and in high altitude, but that's a poor excuse. The Lakers continued season-long trends of various issues. These included committing turnovers (15), not getting back in transition defense (yielding 26 fastbreak points) and falling apart late in the game.
4. The Lakers' three-point shooting remains an issue. Even when they have struggled from the perimeter, Brown has encouraged his players to take open shots. But the Lakers' four-for-23 mark from three-point range clearly shows they need to act otherwise. It's good they have more confidence and better personnel to bolster their shooting compared to last season. Similar to Bryant and his shooting struggles, however, the Lakers' three-point shooters need to find different ways to contribute when those shots don't fall. In this case, finding Bynum and Gasol would've been a better option since they played effectively.
5. Steve Blake remained solid. On a night that featured plenty of poor shooting, Blake became the lone exception. His 14 points on six-for-nine shooting and two-for-five mark from three-point range showed he was justified in taking outside shots when no one else was. Making two layups in one game also speaks to his elevated confidence.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant pulls up for a shot against Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo in the first quarter Sunday at Denver. Credit: Chris Schneider / Associated Press / January 1, 2012