78 points in the paint leaps out off of the stat sheet and into the upper stratosphere from the Lakers 118-109 loss to the Denver Nuggets. A jaw-dropping statistic amidst a troubling Laker performance against the high-flying Nuggets offers obvious reasons why the Lakers lost.
A +21 from their league leading 57 paint points per game, success close to the basket represents the DNA of George Karl’s team. They will run the ball back down the court with focused abandon to increase their scoring efficiency. By no means a furtive purpose, this is their game plan, especially against the more mature teams in the league…especially the Lakers.
The above number is more emblematic of the absent depth in LA’s frontcourt. Add a Jordan Hill here and a Pau Gasol there and the Nuggets might only be a +9 or 10. Yes, they have Kenneth Faried and Javalle McGee, guys who owe their living in the NBA to the closest distances to the bucket. Although they catch and finish lobs or corral o’boards that lead to second chance baskets nightly, they hardly accomplish these feats with such little resistance.
The Lakers do not boast the energy and activity of a team of whipper- snappers like the Nuggs. The Nugget style of play epitomizes the perfect storm that rains on the Lakers parade, specifically following a back-to-back, the second such loss of the season. A loss to Denver at their place, where they sport a 24-3 record at home following the game, equal to Miami for the lead league, regrettably loomed on the schedule as an inevitable outcome. But, these numbers reveal a larger issue than simply playing with more purpose or energy.
The Lakers feature too short a bench and MDA shies from risking enough of his seated players to insure the crisp, freshness of his superstars. Kobe (38), Steve (34), and the starters averaged 34 minutes of PT in Dallas. Spring chickens would not leap out as a means of describing these guys. Even the young Mr. Howard, on the Mavs court for 38 minutes despite foul trouble, labors with an injury typical of a man more advanced than his 26 years. His presence represents the foundation of the defense. Therefore, he cannot afford to operate at any less than optimal efficiency. The starters put up similar minutes the following night and Nash and Kobe notched 10 TOs between them, a sure sign of fatigue. The Nuggs pummeled the Lakers on the glass, 44-36, including a 13-8 edge in o’boards. They also exponentially lapped the Lakers in fast break points, 33-3, both endeavors of effort.
A pedestrian analysis begs questioning the inexplicable denial of the necessity to find frontcourt help. The Lakers stand at a two-player deficit in this regard with very little motivation to remedy the issue. These players do not require immovable size as unstoppable objects. Quite the opposite player can adapt to the modified Pringles System and hold down the fort. Bring in some live bodies, either currently wearing purple and gold warm ups or not, that will play defense and fly down the lanes for both Nash and Kobe’s assist and defensive transitional benefit.
Monday night provided another missed opportunity for such moves, a great game to shift Blake over to the 2 and let Darius Morris chase around Ty Lawson for a few minutes. He could have shot taking parameters and shift to the two on O, but at least another live body to keep up with Lawson. Opponents do it to Nash to wear him down, but justify the practice due to advanced age, as opposed to the need to slow him down regardless of years, to at least hinder his positive impact.
The same applies to Faried and McGee. Teams must place a body between them and every shot gone awry despite the fact that their efforts will likely lead them to the o’board or a highlight, put back dunk. Despite the inevitability, a team must disrupt its frequency. The defender still must make it as difficult, if not impossible, for their opponent, no matter how insurmountable the odds, in the oft chance that they miss.
Belief in the prevalent misconception that one can’t wear down a younger, faster, stronger player, the idea that their live body will not be deterred due to the boundless exuberance of youth, seems to explain this issue. Otherwise, the impetus to assist in the effort to halt this paint parade would express itself in slight rotation shifts or roster moves. Alas, this is not the perceived solution as of yet.
The greatest misconception claims that, when faced by such daunting odds, it is folly to try. It seems the Lakers unnecessarily embrace this concept. The difference in the game stayed constant at 8. Yet, with a thwarted offensive rebound here and challenge of a run out there, the deficit doesn’t persist based on such a wealth of easy looks. The Nuggs do not enjoy the offensive rhythm that is the result of alley oops and open court slam dunks. They have to work a little bit harder, and a team can assist in making them sweat a bit more.
Bring up some D-Fenders and turn them loose on the competition with purpose, like Kenneth Faried. Instruct them to become integral role players within the team concept. Direct them to defend, box out, rebound, fill the lanes, finish only in close proximity to the bucket, and hustle back in transition to stop the ball to allow Dwight time to get back into the paint. The later years of Showtime, as Kareem made his way back down the court on D, employed this strategy with some success.
Don’t give them the coach Norman Dale marching orders of “Don’t shoot the ball unless you’re under the basket all by yourself.” Allow them to express themselves through the roles that they must play to get into the playoffs. The playoffs remain a reality, but success in them will not be without embracing the obvious truth of lengthening the rotation. After climbing out of the early season hole of stockpiling injuries and disappointing losses to get there, akin to scaling Everest in flip flops, shorts, and a t-shirt, fatigue is bound to happen. Without occasionally shaving some minutes off of the starters PT, avoiding a first round bouncing will not happen. If the players on the pine aren’t allowed to help in specific ways, or developing players within the organization do not receive the call up, an early exit in a fashion similar to this loss in Denver will stay inevitable.