Some things to take from the Lakers' 119-90 Game 1 loss Monday to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
1. The Lakers have a lot of defensive adjustments to make on pick-and-roll coverages. Every time the Thunder ran its offense, the Lakers showed up late on their rotations. After a few swing passes, dribble-drive penetrations or pick-and-rolls, the Lakers appeared way out of position. The reasons vary.
Russell Westbrook dropped 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting because the Lakers forced him to be a jump shooter, and he made open shots. Even when Kobe Bryant guarded him, things didn't work. It's understandable they didn't want Westbrook exploding to the rim. But when he has his shot going, the Lakers can't give him too much open space on mid-range jumpers. Kevin Durant punished the Lakers with 25 points on eight-of-16 shooting because they couldn't counter his length when he drove to the basket, gave him too much space on mid-range jumpers and allowed him to move off the ball for open three-pointers (two). Meanwhile, reserve forward James Harden scored all of his 17 points off dribble-drive penetrations. Combine that with Oklahoma City's committing only four turnovers, and the Lakers had no chance defensively.
The most discomforting thing: Beyond the need to take the Thunder's jump shooting more seriously, the Lakers' problems reflected their execution more than their scheme.
2. The Lakers looked sloppy partly because they lacked preparation. Don't chalk up this loss to the Lakers mailing in their performance. They knew they had very little margin for error. That's why they initially matched up Bryant on Westbrook. Andrew Bynum (20 points, 14 rebounds) hustled and took advantage of the Thunder's lack of double teams. Metta World Peace paid little attention to the animosity sent his way for elbowing James Harden three weeks ago and scored most of his 12 points early in the game. But that offensive strategy collapsed as soon as the Thunder made a run.
Bryant's 20 points on seven-of-18 shooting, hardly featured easy looks. Pau Gasol (10 points, seven rebounds) played way too passive. The Lakers soon rushed their offense to come back and then committed 15 turnovers. Then, once the floodgates into the second half, there really wasn't no use for the Lakers to chip away at the lead. There's a reason Bynum and Gasol talked at length after the game about the coverages. The Lakers have a lot of preparation to catch up on.
3. Ramon Sessions doesn't look ready for this series. The Lakers acquired him in hopes that they'd have a point guard who could compete with the elites. With his two points on one-of-seven shooting, Sessions is hardly making the impact the Lakers need, especially when Derek Fisher outscored him (five points). Sessions threw the ball inside to the Lakers' bigs enough, but he lacked the aggression to finish at the basket (one of four). He played the Lakers' methodical pace to the point that they weren't generating any rhythm. And he looked tentative by taking only two outside shots.
4. The Lakers lacked a bench. It's unfair to compare bench totals when the Thunder features Harden, the league's sixth man of the year, and most of the Lakers' offense revolves around the Big Three. Still, the Lakers showed in their first-round series against Denver that they need a "wild card" performer off the bench. After he put together a playoff career-high 19 points in the earlier series' Game 7, Steve Blake put up only one shot. Matt Barnes improved his shooting marks (eight points on a three-of-six clip), but most of those points came in garbage time. Jordan Hill provided energy off hustle plays, but made way too many mistakes on pick-and-roll coverages.
5. The Lakers needed to throw the white flag earlier. They trailed 98-68 to enter the fourth quarter, yet Gasol and World Peace stayed on the floor. World Peace finally called it a night with 10 minutes remaining, but Sessions went in for him and didn't sub out until the 6:56 mark. Meanwhile, Gasol stayed on until 8:33 was left in the game. After that short turnaround, there was no need for Lakers Coach Mike Brown to play any starter in the fourth quarter.
On a totally unrelated note, what's with Devin Ebanks getting tossed with 2:17 left in the game, punching Brown's chair and taking off his jersey? A seldom-used forward who's approaching free agency is hardly helping his cause by doing that. It was surprising, given Ebank's unassuming personality, but it was also disappointing.
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