As the "Voice of the Lakers," boy were you lucky to miss this one. On a night that should have celebrated your birthday with a victory to go along with the bobblehead dolls in your likeness handed out to each fan in attendance at Staples Center, the Lakers put together a miserable performance that may have been the worst ever for the franchise.
Although the Lakers topped the all-time franchise lows of 70 points and 29.4% from the field, there's nothing to be proud of when scoring just 77 points and shooting a pathetic 31.6% from the field. With such a woeful offensive performance, the Lakers topped off the night with a defensive blunder that allowed George Hill to drop in a layup high off the glass with just .1 left on the clock for a Pacers 79-77 victory.
Coach D'Antoni seems proud of the fact that his team actually had a chance to win despite shooting 24-76 (31.6%) from the field, 6-28 (21.4%) from deep, and 23-43 (54.5%) from the line, while also committing 21 turnovers (that led to 16 Pacers points), but I sure don't, and Los Angeles doesn't either. The fact that the Lakers were able to play tough defense and hang around against the defensive minded Pacers doesn't excuse this deplorable performance. The Lakers need to put in work, and coddling them with sentiments such as, "I'm a little bit proud of the guys, the way they fought and had a chance to win, which defies statistical logic," does the team no good.
Coach D'Antoni seems far too amused with the situation. At least Mike Brown took losses to the heart. You could always tell that Brown invested every bit of himself into the game. D'Antoni seems to have a grin on his face during his post game statements, and he is far too willing to rely on the crutch of, "When Steve comes back." Hey coach, does anyone know when Nash is going to be available? Nope! The man has a fractured fibula, it's time to develop something that is going to work in the meantime. Obviously, Darius Morris and Chris Duhon are the 10th man on any NBA roster, but this is the Lakers reality with Nash and Blake injured. With this reality, it's about time D'Antoni takes some responsibility, or begins dropping the hammer.
D'Antoni has already shown his willingness to call out a star player. Against the Grizzlies on November 23rd, D'Antoni sat Pau Gasol the entire fourth quarter. Following the game, when asked about the benching, D'Antoni bluntly stated, "I was thinking, 'Boy I'd like to win this game.' That was the reason." With a small ball lineup, the Lakers outscored the Grizzlies 28-24 in the final quarter, but they still lost 98-106.
Following that statement, Gasol fired back that he wants more touches in the paint, and he also released a perfectly timed excuse that he's battling tendinitis in both of his knees. With Gasol's passive play as of late (and actually for the past couple seasons) — 2-9 against Pacers, 4-7 against Mavericks, 3-8 against Grizzlies, 3-10 against Kings — don't be surprised if Gasol is traded this season. Gasol was so bad against the Pacers, five of his nine attempted shots were blocked!
Even further, Gasol is to blame for the final defensive lapse. Gasol was supposed to switch onto Hill following the pick at the top. Instead, Gasol was late on the hedge, allowing Hill to pick up speed, attack the open space, and take a straight line to the basket. With Gasol's hips facing the sideline instead of half court, Hill turned the corner and easily blew by Gasol before finishing the layup high off the glass just over the outstretched hands of the rotating Dwight Howard. Game over.
Following this game, D'Antoni has plenty of ammo to take shots at his team (behind closed doors) in the coming days. If you take away Kobe Bryant's 5-11 (45.5%) from downtown, the team shot 1-17 (.06%) from distance. Take away Bryant and Howard's combined 19-38 (50%) from the field, and the rest of the team shot just 5-38 (13.2%). Take away Bryant's 11-13 (84.6%) from the line, and the team shot just 12-30 (40%). With the team failing to knock down shots (many of them wide open), an extra hour of shootaround is a must. In fact, I wouldn't let a single player leave the gym without hitting 10 free throws in a row following a series of sprints, or better yet, shooting a minimum of 100 free throws and hitting at least 75% with sprints after every ten shots. If this team is going to run D'Antoni's system, accurate shooting is a must (one of the main reasons why I felt that D'Antoni was a poor choice as head coach).
Capping off the poor play was Bryant's 10 turnovers. Although he was forced to carry the load while battling the flu, Bryant needs to take better care of the ball. Thrust in the playmaker role with Nash out, Bryant needs to find more operating room. More than half of his 10 turnovers occurred because he drove into the teeth of the defense in the lane and ended up losing his handle or getting stripped. Forcing the action, and dribbling into help defense, Bryant was able to drop 40 points, outscoring his teammates by three, but he also got caught trying to make plays when no one else on the team could do anything positive. For an offense that relies on the maxim, "the ball finds energy," this game was as stagnant as they come. Following the game, Bryant put the onus on himself and lamented the fact that on 10 possessions he cost his team an opportunity. At least Bryant took responsibility, I didn't hear that come from any other Laker during the post game interviews.
Overall, this was one of the worst Lakers games I have ever seen. Putting the late dramatics aside, this game was awful. Other than Bryant's clutch, deep three to tie the game at 77, nothing about this game was exciting. Rather, the game was a boring, sloppy, repugnant mess. This team is too talented to put together a performance like this. Get it together, Lakers. If this team has many more games like this, Howard may walk in free agency this summer, and this team will surely get blown up.