Normally, I’m known as too much of an optimist when it comes to the Los Angeles Lakers. It can’t be helped. I’ve been watching this team for the better part of 29 years. I’ve seen plenty of ups and downs, so I generally try to look for the positives or progress, even in a loss. That certainly will not be the case after last night’s disappointing 95-86 road loss at the hands of the Utah Jazz.
Am I saying we should pack up shop and “shut it down” (Dirk) before we even reach Thanksgiving? Of course not. There is still plenty of time to get healthy, and to get things together across the board. Unfortunately, last night’s loss was much less a case of growing pains, as it was simply being outplayed, out-coached, out-muscled, hustled…you get the point. Full disclosure, this was a very hungry Jazz team coming off an 0-3 road trip. A highly spirited effort was to be expected. Trouble is, at 1-4, the Lakers should be the main ones coming out with that type of aggression and fight.
For the better part of the first three quarters, the Lakers simply looked listless. They lost out on a majority of the loose balls, they failed to box out and aggressively attack the glass with any regularity, and they didn’t play with any sense of urgency on the defensive end. Sadly, due to the ongoing fight between DirecTv and Time Warner Cable, I was forced to watch the Utah Jazz feed online. Let’s just say, Matt Harpring (remember him?) and Craig Bolerjack had a field day ridiculing the Lakers, in celebration of their Jazz winning a “title”, also known as a regular season victory over the Purple and Gold. They spent the entire game reinforcing the same narrative: The Lakers look(ed) lost. The most painful part is that I couldn’t begin to deny it.
I realize the Lakers suffered a major blow when Steve Nash went out, with back-up PG already being the biggest concern heading into the season. Problem is, none of the other teams are going to feel sorry for you. No one is going to take it easy, or not go full force just because you are short-handed. If anything, they’ll attack even more aggressively with the ‘blood in the water’. That’s when you have to dig even deeper, and simply out-effort a team. In years past, this would have been a game where the Lakers would have figured out how to rework the match-up in their favor by finding a way to feed the paint. Thus far, this season, the Lakers have not displayed an ability to put together enough of a consistent effort to beat an aggressive team.
While many have fixated on Mike Brown’s decision to utilize some portions of the Princeton offense, I actually have an issue with the team’s lack of focus and inconsistent effort. As a defensive-minded coach, Brown must be frustrated by an inability to find a way to motivate his players enough to stick to his principles. At one point last year, they were out there communicating, ‘helping the helper’, and really taking up for one another on that end. I realize familiarity and comfort while playing together can help with these issues, but the Jazz weren’t gobbling up loose balls due to any uncertainty. The Lakers simply got out-worked. With the amount of money the organization is paying, and with Howard’s free agency looming at the end of the season, that simply won’t be tolerated. I’m aware of Jim Buss’ vote of confidence for Coach Brown following the game, but I’m hoping that is a true sign of organizational solidarity rather than an eventual kiss of death. Not only because I think Brown is a good guy, but (selfishly) because I don’t want another “wasted season” for an aging Bryant and newcomers Nash and Howard.
Gasol and Howard cannot combine for just 24 points and expect to win. More importantly, they can’t each be held to single-digit rebounds and just two blocks between them. Regardless of whether Nash is there, Bryant and Howard cannot combine for 11 turnovers. As has been the case in each of the Lakers’ four losses, they lost the turnover battle (18 to 12). They were also nearly double-up in assists (11 to 21). As much as I loved seeing Bryant’s offensive aggression in the 4th quarter, the effectiveness of that brand of iso-ball dissipated about three years ago. Not blaming Bryant for this loss by any stretch. Simply saying you can’t expect him to will the team to victory in year 17, if you aren’t going to find a way to effectively utilize your big men, not to mention the rest of the roster.
As an ex-club team and high school coach myself (obviously to a lesser degree), I tend to avoid openly questioning the techniques and plans of Coach Brown, as the head coach of any team generally knows much more about the progress and pulse of his team than any of us. That said, I cannot understand the decision to sit Jodie Meeks for most of the season when you (GM Kupchak) specifically brought him in to relieve Bryant of the heavy minute totals. While I won’t question most of the strategy, I think we all have reservations about seeing Bryant wear down at the end of the year, as he seemed to last season.
At the end of the day, the Lakers must play better, harder, and with more of a sense of purpose. After a winless preseason, I preached patience for all. After a 1-4 start to the season, I’m still willing to be patient, but I need to see this talented roster start playing with more passion throughout the game. I can handle a few early-season losses, as I realize it doesn’t necessarily mean the ‘Mayan Calendar’ is accurate just because they get off to a slow start. That said, if this team truly has title aspirations, then it is going to have to start displaying a bit of that championship-level heart and poise Lakers Nation has grown accustomed to seeing from the squad.