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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lakers Lose Second Game in a Row Despite Bryant's Season-High 41 Points

After a 106-103 setback in Orlando on Saturday, the Lakers have now lost consecutive regular season games for the first time since last March. Kobe Bryant scored a season-high 41 points versus the Magic and tied for team-high honors with eight rebounds but his efforts were not enough to cancel out fine performances by Jameer Nelson (27 points, five assists), Rashard Lewis (22 points, five rebounds) and Dwight Howard (18 points, 12 rebounds); other than Derek Fisher, who scored 27 points (just two off of his regular season career-high), the rest of the Lakers were MIA, scoring just 35 points on 13-40 field goal shooting.

The Lakers have been called the deepest and most talented team in the NBA. As I wrote in my article about the difference between talent and depth, the Lakers are certainly a deep team in terms of having 10 players who can competently play at least 10 mpg if necessary--though the same thing could also be said of the Cavs--but the Lakers do not have the same amount of talent contained on the rosters of previous teams that won 65-plus games (as the Lakers are on pace to do). The reality is that Kobe Bryant is the only Laker who is among the top 20 players in the NBA and the Lakers are more dependent on him for their success than many people are willing to acknowledge; there have been several games this year that the Lakers would have lost without clutch play by Bryant down the stretch, while Cleveland's LeBron James has been able to sit out entire fourth quarters and Boston's Big Three Plus Rondo take turns taking over games. Here are recaps of just a few of the games in which Bryant had to save the day:

Kobe Takes Over in Second Half, Lakers Topple Blazers

Lakers Edge Mavs, Improve to 6-0

Lakers Slip Past Energetic Knicks

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has been so dissatisfied with the play of his bench that recently he has shuffled his lineup, shortened the playing time of his reserve players and increased Bryant's minutes. Sometimes people superficially judge Bryant's playmaking prowess by his assist totals but that does not take into account three things: (1) Even when the Lakers are playing well, Bryant often makes the pass that sets up the assist (delivering the so-called "hockey assist") rather than directly feeding the player who scores; (2) players have to make shots in order for anyone to get credit for an assist, so many of the times that Bryant feeds teammates are not noted in the boxscore because they missed shots (or got fouled and went to the free throw line); (3) although it is often assumed that Bryant is a gunner who forces shots, the truth is that throughout his career there have been many times when Bryant tried to be a playmaker only to have his teammates pass the ball right back to him because they don't want to shoot (this happened a lot in the 2008 NBA Finals and the contested shots that Bryant was therefore forced to take with the shot clock winding down lowered his shooting percentage).

Issue number three was a major problem in the loss to Orlando but you don't have to take my word for it; here is what Coach Jackson said after the game: "I was yelling at the guys, they kept giving the ball back to Kobe after he'd hit somebody in an open situation. He was dead-legged out there and really gave us a great effort for three quarters, but that fourth quarter, he was tired." After Bryant scored 25 first half points while carrying the Lakers to a 58-49 lead, the Magic quite logically sent multiple defenders at Bryant in the second half; unfortunately for the Lakers, Bryant's teammates proved to be unwilling or unable to take advantage of the wide open opportunities that Bryant's presence created.

The way things are going, even though the Lakers are clearly both deeper and more talented than they were in 2006 and 2007--which is actually not saying much when you recall that Kwame Brown, Smush Parker and Luke Walton frequently started for those teams--it seems that the Lakers will need Bryant to go on one of his patented scoring sprees in order to maintain possession of the top spot in the West; the other players simply are not getting the job done, at either end of the court--and in that regard it is worth mentioning that in addition to leading the Lakers in scoring and assists Bryant also takes the toughest perimeter defensive assignment on a nightly basis.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:47 AM



At Monday, December 22, 2008 2:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As you may have pointed out last year, the Lakers feature exactly ONE player who has more than 1 all star appearance.

Most people focus on scoring & offense, not defense and rebounding, and not economics. So Gasol looks good, but he's a big contract that plays disinterested defense. (The Memphis owner said only the Lakers offered to take the contract without sending abck a bad one, so that's why they have him).

Bynum is still young, often lost and ungainly; for this season, he's not much of an improvement over Ronny Touriaf.

Having said that, Lakers may lose the regualr season battle, but playoffs are about how 2 teams matchup. Remember Walton trying to Guard Pierce when Kobe went to Allen (or vice versa)? Inserting Ariza is an enormous improvement. Plus Posey is gone. The Lakers were close at the end of all but one game and maybe the +Ariza -Posey is the difference this year.

Or one of them old Celtics gets hurt.

At Monday, December 22, 2008 5:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are right that Kobe is the only Laker who has more than one All-Star appearance (Gasol made the All-Star team in 2006 and no other Laker has earned that honor at all) and that is a fact that I have emphasized on several occasions, particularly when people talk about how "talented" the Lakers are; there are several contending teams that have multiple All-Stars and, as we saw in the Finals, even the best player in the world cannot guard two All-Stars at the same time.

Gasol is a good complement for Kobe on offense but he is not a physical player or a great defender. Everyone says that the Lakers fleeced Memphis, which appears to be true on the surface, but no one considers what the Grizzlies were thinking: Gasol cannot lead us very far as the main guy, so we will shed his contract and rebuild from the ground up with young players. In the NBA, if you know that your team cannot win a title being led by the guy who is currently your best player, getting rid of him and starting over is not a bad idea (the Wizards should have done that when Arenas' contract came up).

The Lakers gaining Ariza while the Celtics lost Posey should certainly help the Lakers but another thing to consider is that Rondo has become much better. The Lakers are certainly capable of beating the Celtics in a seven game series but if that series were to be played right now I would pick the Celtics. As you suggest, injuries (or other factors) could change matters greatly in a few months.

At Tuesday, December 23, 2008 11:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

the lakers d is very disintrested at times but overall there great team now 23-5 aftr win tonight gasol was sick the last few games but played well tonight vs hornets 20 and 7 5 asssist the laskers havent played as well of late but kobe sat out alot the first like 20 games 3 games he had to heavy lift out of 28 lebron team play better d is why he sits out more games where the lakers are lazidzical his best player other than him mo willams never a all star big z is good and west is okay but the celts have alot better supporting cast than he does and lakers and cavs probably even all in all.

if lakers play d they will be tough to beat is till see thme as champions.


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