Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, right, talks to Lakers power forwards Pau Gasol,… (Bahram Mark Sobhani / Associated…)
Some things to take from the Lakers' 121-97 loss Friday to the San Antonio Spurs.
1. The Lakers were outworked. One fourth-quarter play epitomized everything about the lack of hustle by the Lakers (40-24). It also captured how the Spurs (46-16) appeared to be younger and more energetic by fighting for possesssions and making timely passes. Spurs center Tiago Splitter passed out of a double team. Spurs guard Manu Ginobili found a wide-open three-pointer. The shot bricked off the rim, but Splitter fought for the long rebound over Pau Gasol and Matt Barnes and passed to Ginobili. He then fired a pass inside to Matt Bonner for an easy layup.
The Lakers simply couldn't keep up with San Antonio because they forced shots, hardly crashed the boards and then let the Spurs run in the open floor. It's a formula most teams exhibit against the Lakers because of their age and athleticism. But San Antonio made the Lakers gasp for breath simply by outworking them. They controlled the boards, 42-29. The Spurs reeled off 22 fastbreak points. And as illustrated in the play above, they appeared to fight more for every loose ball.
It's surreal to think how the Lakers managed to coast in a double-digit win last week against San Antonio. It's fair to wonder if it was sort of a fluke. The Lakers now have a half-game lead over the Clippers for third place with two games remaining. Meanwhile, the Spurs have a one-game edge over Oklahoma City (45-17) for first place.
2. Kobe Bryant took a measured approach against the Spurs. In his first game since sitting out with a sore left shin for the last seven contests, the Black Mamba hardly came in looking to put his stamp on the game. While taking only six first-half shots, it appeared he wanted to embody the strong ball movement and emphasize setting up big men in the post, which the Lakers displayed well during his absence.
Surely, Bryant could've offered more than 18 points on seven-of-12 shooting. But I don't fault Bryant's initial approach. I do fault, however, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, who lacked much aggressivness to really have a significant impact the game. Bynum (17 points, five-of-nine shooting) and Gasol (11 points, four-of-10 shooting) might have seen strong double teams, but Bynum looked tentative on the boards (two) while both Bynum and Gasol looked tentative filling the lane on defense.
Because the Lakers' initial game plan didn't work, Bryant entered the second half scoring eight points within the first six minutes. But it hardly mattered since the Lakers trailed too much at that point.
3. The Lakers struggled again on pick-and-roll coverage. They need to rewatch Brown's DVDs. In what's become a weeklong trend, the Lakers have looked incredibly undisciplined covering pick-and-roll plays. Tony Parker is going to light up most every opponent he faces, so his 20 points on eight-of-14 shooting isn't the only concern. What's more concerning is that the Lakers collectively helped on screens too quickly, instantly throwing off their rotations. Because of that, one or two simple passes gave the Spurs wide open looks.
San Antonio knocked down 10 of 15 three-pointers, with closeouts often arriving two seconds too late. Tim Duncan nailed 21 points on mostly mid-range jumpers. So, too, did Ginobil, who scored 20 points off the bench. The Lakers' poor pick-and-roll coverages and their usual struggles in getting back on defense provide an easy formula for opponents to exploit in the postseason.
4. Ramon Sessions struggled. He didn't appear comfortable one bit in any area of the game. Sessions' two-of-nine shooting clip reflected his tentativeness in settling for jumpers instead of driving to the basket. Of course, Parker's points revealed Sessions' continuous struggles to stay tight to his man. His four personal fouls showcased his overall frustration. Aside from his defense, Sessions has been mostly reliable. But his poor play against San Antonio raises a fair question on whether he can match up in the playoffs against some of the league's top point guards. It remains uncertain considering he couldn't hold his own against Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook or Parker in two of the last three games.
5. The Lakers had hustle plays from Metta World Peace and Matt Barnes. OK, so the game wasn't entirely bad. The outcome could've been worse had Barnes (14 points, five rebounds, three assists) and World Peace (10 points, three rebounds, three steals, two assists) didn't put forth the effort. Obviously their contributions won't be enough to carry a team. But it's a good sign they remained just as engaged during Bryant's return as they did during his absence. Assuming Bynum, Gasol and Sessions elevate their play, consistent effort from the small forward position will give the Lakers a nice energy boost.