My wife, walking past the TV halfway through the third quarter: "If they don't win this game, people are going to be very upset, right? Because they should win this game." She's a lot of things -- a wonderful woman and a fine mother to name a couple -- but a basketball fan isn't one.
But even she knows the Sacramento Kings have been garbage for a few years now, and she has watched me do my job long enough to know how Los Angeles Lakers fans react to nights like this. Sunday's loss was one from which positives could be taken. A day later, there was virtually nothing to like, other than happiness the Lakers made a push at the end to try to steal the game.
On the other hand, don't fall behind to a lousy team, and heroics aren't required. Here are five takeaways. ...
1. Scoring is hard to come by.
We've been hammering it through the offseason, into training camp, through two preseason games, following Sunday's loss, and will do it again tonight: The Lakers lack seriously a second shot creator and non-Kobe Bryant ball handler. It's not that the Lakers don't have players with some offensive utility -- they do. Only one guy, though, can create his own shot (Bryant), and the Lakers are short reliable ball handlers proficient in working outside the triangle. The combination means the offense too easily gets bogged down, and when it does there aren't enough guys able to break down the opposition and bail them out.
It was certainly a problem Monday night. The Lakers did miss a ton of often shots from the perimeter-- while there is potential they haven't yet established themselves as a good shooting team, but 1-16 from downtown is a fluky kind of bad-- but overall everything was a struggle. Initiating the offense, cuts, decision-making, ball movement. It all looked ragged, and as a result the Lakers resorted to a ton of jumpers, often taken under less than ideal circumstances. Late, they used decent moments of defensive pressure to earn easy points, but for most of the night their half-court sets could make a small child cry.
The Lakers have many problems time likely helps solve. This isn't one of them.
2. It's better to be lucky than good, and defensively to some degree the Lakers were lucky ... and still not good.
At halftime the Lakers were down nine, despite Sacramento shooting over 52 percent. While the Kings were taking advantage of their chances, they could only generate two offensive rebounds and had just eight free throws. Obviously, controlling the boards and playing defense without fouling are important defensive principles, but that they shut off what are normally necessary avenues for a team to goose its percentages and scoring and were still down a bundle speaks to the difficulties L.A. had containing the Kings. As the game went on and Sacramento's numbers evened out (they had eight offensive rebounds and 27 free throws in the second half), the Lakers couldn't completely close the gap despite lowering Sacto's overall shooting mark.
While Sunday they did a decent job overall, and a stellar job in the second half, keeping Chicago's Derrick Rose on the perimeter, tonight Sacramento's offensive stars, Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans in particular, were more than capable of creating space for themselves in the paint and in mid-range. 24 hours later against a lesser team, the Lakers took a real step back. Mike Brown said last week he typically struggles to limit his film time, because there's so much he wants to go over.
If that's the case, Tuesday's film session ahead of the Utah game might be lengthy enough to require an intermission.
3. Pau Gasol didn't endear himself to Lakers fans.
Sports are a funny thing. A side-by-side comparison of box scores says Gasol had a better game Sunday. More points, more rebounds, better shooting percentage. This is why newspaper box scores are going the way of the dodo. Pau picked up some easy buckets late, including a couple of alley-oops as the Lakers created turnovers and break opportunities on the other end. Those plays padded what would otherwise have been a very bad night. He was listless early, basically a non-factor and well below the standard he has set as a Laker.
Pau's right sholder was an issue following Sunday's loss and Gasol played with a big padded donut contraption peeking through his sleeve. At times, he seemed to go left and use the left hand just to avoid the right, though it's hard to say for sure, since Gasol is so skilled with either hand. Either way, he was on the floor, and therefore needed to perform better. Hopefully the damage isn't extensive, because the Lakers could hardly lose Gasol so close to Andrew Bynum's return. They need all their talented bodies on the court.
It's not necessarily fair given all he's accomplished in Los Angeles, but Gasol has worked himself back into a position of having to prove himself as a frontline player following last year's playoff disaster. Monday didn't help his case.
4. Metta World Peace might have re-endeared himself to Lakers fans, at least for one night.
It seems appropriate that on a night the Lakers were so discombobulated and disorganized, Metta World Peace would be the team's best player. But he was, particularly early as he made Mike Brown's plan, bringing MWP off the bench and planting him on the block, look like genius. Artest was a beast down low, entering the break 5-for-7 from the field, while his teammates were a combined 11-for-37.
He finished with 19 points, four assists and four rebounds, and was the most effective, high-energy player the Lakers had.
5. Troy Murphy appears to be a bargain.
Yes, he's very slow. Yes he can be a major defensive liability. But Murphy is a former double-double machine who can hit a jump shot and stretch the floor, or did last season. He quietly threw in another productive game, with eight points, eight boards and a block.
For little more than a million bucks, the Lakers appear to have found a valuable addition to their rotation.