Some things to take from the Lakers' 112-91 loss Tuesday to the San Antonio Spurs.
1. The Lakers miss Kobe Bryant. Well, duh. They're always a better team with him in the lineup. But they managed to go 4-1 in their first five games without him as he recovers from a sore left shin because everyone collectively elevated their production. The Lakers' loss to San Antonio is a vivid reminder that they can't sustain such an effort, long term.
When the Lakers fail on defense or are inconsistent on offense, Bryant can bail them out through sheer will and talent. Who knows if that would have been enough against San Antonio, but his ability to jump-start a sagging offense surely beats what we saw Tuesday night.
The Lakers still don't want to rush him back early just for the sake of a higher playoff seeding. But they shouldn't have the sense that they'll easily win games without him before the playoffs. They did so earlier only because of a team-wide adrenaline rush.
2. The Lakers' defense regressed. The Spurs' 18-0 second-quarter run that epitomized the Lakers' sudden lack of defensive focus. Tony Parker drove past Steve Blake with one dribble. Boris Diaw drove into the lane with no resistance. The Lakers' six second-quarter turnovers featured all of the players trudging back on defense. As the Spurs routinely ran pick-and-roll plays, Ramon Sessions was slow in sliding underneath the screens. Fast-forward to the fourth quarter, and you'll see Blake appearing more fixated on roughing it up with Manu Ginobili than defending Parker.
Add it all up and it shouldn't be surprising how well the Spurs took advantage of such mistakes. After Parker was held last week to two-of-12 shooting because of disciplined pick-and-roll coverage, he scored 29 points Tuesday on 14-of-20 shooting. The Lakers failed to cover perimeter shooters, allowing the Spurs to make seven of 18 from three-point range. And all the Lakers' offensive miscues led to San Antonio scoring 20 fastbreak points.
The Lakers' biggest weakness involves their transition defense; they don't have the speed to always get back on defense. But they made that worse by forcing bad entry passes and lacking ball movement. As much as the Lakers struggled in their rotations, the way they ran their offense largely contributed to the defensive drop-off.
3. Andrew Bynum's play dropped off after a strong first quarter. He proved early that the upper respiratory infection wasn't limiting him, scoring 13 first-quarter points on six-of-nine shooting. But there remained something far more frustrating and dangerous. Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich started Tiago Splitter in place of DeJuan Blair because of his struggles against last week on the glass. That move, along with relentless double teams with Tim Duncan, put Bynum in a tailspin.
He attempted one shot in the second quarter. Bynum routinely saw a clogged lane when he received an entry pass. In the third quarter, Duncan swiped the ball from him on one possession, only for Bynum to later post up along the baseline and get called for traveling.
The overwhelming pressure sapped his focus in other areas too. His seven rebounds partly reflect the Spurs' strong shooting. But his zero offensive boards reflect Bynum's sudden drop in effort. Bynum may have helped kick-start the Lakers with eight third-quarter points. But his 21-point effort on eight-of-16 shooting means very little if he doesn't contribute on the glass and on defense.
4. Metta World Peace got into foul trouble. The Lakers used to find ways to limit World Peace's playing time. But with his production consistently improving, his picking up his third foul with 8:10 left in the second quarter severely hurt the Lakers. His 11 points on four-of-11 shooting may not look that great, but the points came off hustle plays. He also posted three rebounds and three assists. So it shouldn't be surprising the Spurs outscored the Lakers 26-16 after he got into foul trouble.
Once he returned in the second half, World Peace was instrumental in several hustle plays. They included setting up Bynum and Barnes on fastbreaks, grabbing two steals and making two fastbreak layups. But the run came too late, as the Lakers trailed 91-70 entering the fourth quarter. Had World Peace not gotten into foul trouble, the Lakers would've had a better chance in staying in the game.
5. Bynum and Pau Gasol should have rested more in the fourth quarter. Brown might show patience over Bryant's recovery. But he's clearly not Popovich. He waited until the 3:40 mark to empty his bench when he could've done done so earlier in a double-digit loss. OK, so the Lakers may not have expended too much energy with how little effort they displayed. But it still was another missed opportunity. Another head-scratcher: Rookie Andrew Goudelock didn't play when Brown cleared the bench. The reasons are beyond me.
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