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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fundamentally Flawed Lakers Flounder Versus Jazz

Name a basketball fundamental and the Lakers flunked it in a ragged 102-81 preseason loss to the Utah Jazz. Rebounding? Utah 50, L.A. 41. Field goal shooting? Utah .439, L.A. .397. Turnovers? Utah 10, L.A. 20. Mental breakdowns? Utah had very few, L.A. had too many to mention. Ronnie Brewer led the Jazz with 18 points in 19 minutes, Mehmet Okur had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Carlos Boozer struggled with his shot (3-10 from the field, seven points) but contributed 10 rebounds and four assists and Deron Williams had 10 points and eight assists. The Lakers' problems started at the top and pretty much went straight down the roster: Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 15 points in just under 28 minutes but he missed his first eight field goal attempts and shot just 4-16 from the field. Starting point guard Derek Fisher shot 1-3 from the field, starting small forward Vladimir Radmanovic shot 1-7 from the field and starting center Chris Mihm shot 0-2 from the field. Among the starters, only power forward Ronny Turiaf--four points on 2-2 shooting, 10 rebounds--had a good night. The Lakers did get some decent production from some of their bench players: rookie Javaris Crittenton scored 10 points in 14 minutes, making all five of his field goal attempts, Jordan Farmar had seven points and a team-high seven assists, Maurice Evans scored 11 points in 17 minutes and Andrew Bynum had eight points and eight rebounds.

Utah set the tone right from the beginning, taking an 11-1 lead in the first five minutes; the Lakers missed their first nine field goal attempts and never got closer than eight points the rest of the game. By the end of the first quarter Utah led 34-14, shooting 13-22 from the field (.591) while holding the Lakers to 3-19 shooting (.158). Bryant shot 0-6 but still had nearly half of the Lakers' points on 6-6 free throw shooting. Bryant sat out the last :36 of the quarter and nearly the first eight minutes of the second quarter. When he returned to action the Lakers trailed 46-31 but the Jazz pounded the Lakers on the offensive glass and pushed the margin to 54-33 by halftime.

Bryant scored a driving layup and assisted on a Radmanovic three pointer to open the third quarter and the Lakers got as close as 56-42 before Utah pulled away again to take a 62-42 lead. Led by Bryant's seven points in the quarter, the Lakers made one final run to get to within 76-62 by the end of the quarter. Bryant did not play at all in the fourth quarter. With reserves battling reserves, the Lakers trimmed the lead to 80-71 but then Utah went on an 8-0 run to blow the game open.

There is not much to say about the Jazz other than they look ready for the regular season. Their shooting was not great but their ball and player movement were both excellent and their defense and rebounding were both very good. As for the Lakers, they look like a mess. Certainly, if this had been a regular season game then Bryant would have returned to the game in the fourth quarter once the lead had been cut to nine and maybe he would have scored 20 points down the stretch to carry the Lakers to a win at the buzzer--but a team cannot prosper that way for an entire season. That is the way that the Lakers got by in the final six weeks last season but if the Lakers need that kind of superhuman effort from Bryant for 82 games even he will break down. The team announced that Lamar Odom will likely miss the first two weeks of the regular season--and who knows what kind of condition he will be in when he returns or if he will even be able to stay healthy? Bryant may rue the 15-20 pounds that he lost over the summer because the Lakers are getting nothing from their frontcourt in terms of rebounding and defense; he may have to get seven rpg or more as a shooting guard in order to keep the Lakers from being completely dominated on the glass. The Triangle Offense looks more like a three ring circus, with passes rolling between Kwame Brown's legs and bouncing off of players' hands. Once, Bryant faked to the baseline and cut to the middle only to watch Brown throw a no-look pass out of bounds. With Phil Jackson still laboring physically after his second hip replacement surgery, this team may be one sustained losing streak away from seeing Jackson take a Pat Riley-like midseason sabbatical--only Jackson may decide to not come back. Yes, there is a best case scenario in which Odom returns quickly, Bynum continues to improve, rookie Crittenton and second year player Farmar perform well, Bryant does his usual magic and the Lakers emerge as a surprise team--but it is unlikely that most of those things will happen. The reality is that Bryant's sustained excellence is the only thing that this team can rely upon and one man can only take a team so far. Bryant is certain to exercise his option and jump off of this sinking ship in 2009, so expect the rampant trade speculation to begin heating up again soon.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:28 AM

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