The Seven Games in 11 Days Blues: The Lakers Lose to the Pistons, 97-83The NBA regular season is an 82 game grind and when a team plays seven games in 11 days right out of the box it is not likely that the seventh game will be a virtuoso performance. The L.A. Lakers began the season better than a lot of people expected them to but they laid an egg on Friday night versus the Detroit Pistons, losing 97-83. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson did not mince any words in describing how his team played: "That was as bad a performance as I think we've had here in a long time." The Pistons were without the services of All-Star guard Richard Hamilton, who hyperextended his right (shooting) elbow, but Tayshaun Prince and Chauncey Billups more than picked up the slack. Prince tied his career-high with 31 points, while Billups had 21 points and nine assists. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 19 points, 17 of which he scored in the fourth quarter as he tried to singlehandedly lift his lifeless team to victory. Lamar Odom had 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Billups did most of his damage early, scoring 12 points in the first quarter as Detroit took a 27-21 lead. The film of the second quarter will not be appearing at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame any time soon. Detroit did not score until Flip Murray's layup nearly four minutes into the period; the Lakers were hardly burning up the nets, producing four points in that same time span. The Pistons picked up the pace a little down the stretch and led 45-37 at halftime. Bryant shot 1-3 from the field in the first half. On a few occasions he drove to the hoop and attracted double team coverage. He was content to pass to his teammates, none of whom made shots with any regularity; not one Laker managed to score in double figures in the first half. The Pistons outrebounded the Lakers 29-19. After the game, Jackson suggested that the Lakers had tried too hard to force feed the ball to center Andrew Bynum, who finished with six points on 3-4 shooting: "We wanted to go inside to Andrew and that cost us. We lost the ball a number of times trying to do that." Even though Bryant was hardly dominating the ball, Odom did little with his opportunities, scoring just four points, although he did have six rebounds and three assists.
The third quarter was a complete disaster for the Lakers. Prince had 17 of his points in that period, running off nine straight at one point and crossing over Bryant so badly on one play that the Lakers' star actually fell down. The Lakers committed seven turnovers in the third quarter and trailed 70-53 going into the fourth quarter.
Bryant went to the bench with 2:28 remaining in the third quarter and applied a heat wrap to his ailing knee. The treatment must have helped, because when he returned to the game with 8:43 left he suddenly looked like the guy who scored 81 points in a game last year. The Lakers trailed 76-60 and Rasheed Wallace soon made it 79-60 with a three point play. Bryant scored seven points in the next three minutes but the Lakers still trailed 85-68 because they could not get any stops. Bryant decided to do something about that. He read Billups coming off of a baseline screen, jumped into the passing line like Deion Sanders, intercepted the ball and was off to the races. Billups grabbed him from behind and the clear path foul meant that Bryant would get two free throws and the Lakers would retain possession. Bryant made them both to cut the lead to 87-76 and got a good look at a three pointer that could have pulled the Lakers to within eight with more than three minutes left but he missed the shot. Billups then hit a turnaround jumper as the shot clock expired, a real dagger that put Detroit up 89-76. Bryant drove to the hoop aggressively and bagged two free throws to get the Lakers back within 11. A comeback seemed improbable but not impossible until Odom committed his third foul, threw his wristbands in disgust and was ejected after receiving his second technical foul. Billups made all three free throws and Detroit led 92-78.
Bryant was less than impressed with his team's performance: "We played terrible. We kind of ran around like a chicken with our head cut off."
Andrew Bynum is the youngest player in the league, so it is not surprising that he has his ups and downs. NBA Shootaround's Tim Legler likes what he sees overall, though, noting that Bynum "catches the ball cleanly and finishes in traffic." Greg Anthony added that Michael Jordan's championship teams went with a center by committee approach, which is an option for the Lakers when Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm get healthy--but the word out of L.A. is that Mihm will need surgery on his injured ankle and will be out for five to eight months.
ESPN's Jim Gray interviewed Lakers Assistant Coach Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during the game and asked him about his protege's progress. Jabbar said that Bynum is "starting to understand how to use his talents in the flow of the game. It's a very difficult thing to understand what to do and when to do it even though mechanically you can do everything." He added, "They threw him in the deep end of the pool" by giving Bynum so many minutes this early in the season--of course, the Lakers had no choice with Brown and Mihm on the shelf.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:25 AM