On the outset of a seven game roadie, nursing a seven-game road-losing streak, the improved Lakers looked to extend their winning streak against the other worst-team in the West, the Phoenix Suns. The opportunity to gain a game on the 8th seed also loomed large on the horizon as the Rockets lost in Denver. After almost gifting the Hornets a W twice at Staples last night, LA hoped to continue to share the ball and play solid defense.
Apparently, the Lakers aren’t against re-gifting.
Collapsing painstakingly in the final 10 minutes of the 4th quarter after building a 13-point lead at 78-65, the Lakers showed the fatigue of a back-to-back and lost their 8th straight road game, 92-86. Inexplicable considering the Lakers just posted a 65% mark for shooting, only 2 TOs, and four of five from distance in the 3rd quarter, outscoring Phoenix 32-22. Unfortunately, they just couldn’t sustain the level of energy necessary to close this one out.
In the blame game carousel of LA, a finger could squarely point towards the re-aggravation of Dwight’s torn labrum in his right shoulder with 6:57 left in the game. That would be unfair. True, Dwight’s 14 rebounds and defensive presence would be missed, but the trouble started way before that unfortunate turn of events. The Lakers could not properly close out the Hornets the previous night for the same reason the Lakers weren’t able to tonight.
Sure, 20 TOs and 4-18 shooting in the 4th caused the implosion. What caused the cause? Why did the Lakers suddenly morph back into the fumbling, bumbling hot mess that has relentlessly tortured basketball purists for the past month? Why did they suddenly lack the energy to continue the momentum they had established from the 3rd into the 4th quarter? Leadership reflects attitude, and the Lakers looked completely lost and unfocused at they were outscored 29-13 in the 4th.
On the 2nd game of a back-to-back, especially one that unnecessarily went down to the wire, the use of the bench is key. These Lakers are not a clutch of spring chickens or a brood of young hens. They have elder players with knee, foot, and back issues. More importantly, in the wake of turning their team weaknesses into strengths, the Lakers have an inconsistent bench that played a role in the W the night before. Their continued positive development will no doubt make the difference if this team will make the playoffs, let alone make noise in them.
Yet, when the going got tough, Mike D folded on his bench and went all in with the starters. Who can blame him with names like Nash, Bryant, and Howard on the jerseys, but he should have stuck with the lesser-known guys for a bit longer. Jamison had a flurry of buckets to end the 3rd and start the 4th to help establish the lead. He scored 13 points in 12 minutes, providing 10-straight points for the Lakers. Yet, following a TO and two buckets by the Suns, Mike D pulled him in lieu of Dwight. Antawn, clearly on with 5-6 made from the field, 3-4 from 3, should have stayed on the court. He could have easily slid right back in when Dwight fell to the court in a heap with the shoulder injury. Instead, he brought Pau back in after he sat for a moment after Clark replaced him. Jamison, brought in to the Lakers as a scorer, never saw the court again.
In the span that Jamison hit the bench, Metta missed four shots and Blake dribbled way too much for the offense to work. Mike D could have pulled Blake, especially since he is coming off of injury, and leave Meeks in the game. Nash’s homecoming is a great story, but his game was a bit off. He spent much of the 1st half handling the rock, instead of spotting up, which could have thrown him off a bit. Also, Kob and Meeks have been developing an interesting chemistry over the winning streak. This is something the coach should notice. It’s hard for the player and coach experiencing the “return” game because they want to prove that they “still got it,” but “it” cost the Lakers an important W.
It is understandable that Mike kept Metta in to stop Beasley, but it was a bit too late since Beasley represented the only consistent offense for the Suns, sitting on 19 of his game-high 27 points. The Lakers had the lead and all they needed to do is score, which is Mike D’s forte. He should have pressured Beasley by making him play defense, chase around screens, and move his feet. He should have attacked him in the post or the pick and roll to slow him down. As the rest of the team embraces their new roles, it is time for D’Antoni to accept the role of head coach and live with the hard calls that one has to make, instead of throwing barbs and making quips to the media about loyalty and dedication.
Stops win games, but game management is a skill that requires occasionally transcending the rules. With Kobe at 38 minutes after 34 the night before, and Pau sitting on a 21-minute performance full of frustration after being left out of the 4th, Mike D blew an absolute opportunity to quell drama and win a game on the road. Instead of flippantly blasting Gasol in the media for his gripes about playing time, Mike should have put the game squarely on Pau’s shoulders. Don’t bring Dwight back in, not because he fluke re-injured his shoulder, but because Pau needs a boost. Let him demonstrate that he deserves more time. Don’t rip him in the media with disdain. Likewise, don’t succumb to his complaints. Make him earn the right to make them. Make him culpable for them.
Again, the Lakers are on a back-to-back and he is the fresher player. Let the team learn how to keep a lead. Let the team succeed based on their efforts, not the fear of losing. Let the team win a game on the road. Plus, the opportunity to show the roster that any beef they might have with the coaching will be met with discipline and fairness.
Add one more TO to the team count because Mike D dropped the ball, too.