The 2010-11 season now has a losing streak. Following Thursday's loss in Denver, the Lakers again went down Sunday night, this time to the Suns. To call this a statistically odd game would be a mild understatement. The Lakers shot nearly 50 percent, and obliterated the Suns (as they should) on the glass, 49-32. They owned the paint, outscoring Phoenix down low 68-28. They were just as adept on the break, with both teams logging 15 points.
What swung the game was 3-point shooting. Specifically, the 22 converted by the visitors, a franchise high of threes allowed from the Lakers, and a franchise record of threes hit for the Suns. The same Suns team that has basically been launching threes with abandon, seemingly for decades. Sunday was their high water mark.
1. Pau Gasol -- With the Suns periodically swarming the post, the Lakers occasionally found it difficult to get Pau the ball, but he responded by consistently crashing the glass and creating second-chance opportunities for himself and the Lakers. Nine of his 17 rebounds came on the offensive end, as Gasol stuck with virtually every shot the Lakers hoisted from the perimeter. He was extremely efficient with his shot, finishing 12-for-17 from the floor, en route to 28 points. No question, Gasol was part of the team's defensive breakdowns as well, but when he made mistakes, he certainly had plenty of company.Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
As has been his habit this season, Pau Gasol was a major force of good for the Lakers Sunday night.
Gasol was also smart about his movements against Phoenix's defense. On one first-half play, he turned a front from Channing Frye into a screen for Shannon Brown, who was driving from the wing. Gasol sealed off Frye, leaving nobody there to defend the rim. He was also good moving the ball out of traffic to create chances for teammates.
2. Lamar Odom -- Right up until the final minute, that is, when Odom picked up an unnecessary technical foul protesting the lack of a foul call against him as he scored on a pretty interior pass from Kobe Bryant. "That was a disgusting technical," Bryant said of the call against his teammate. No disagreement, here. In a tense, (then) two-point game with under a minute to play, that sort of thing should be let go (particularly since Odom was, in fact, fouled on the play). But this is the NBA world we live in.
While acknowledging the rule is the rule, Odom indicated, at the very least, he found the call unexpected. "It looked like [Hedo] Turkoglu was trying to foul me on purpose, I thought," Odom said. "Actually Ronnie [referee Ron Garretson] was in on the play and I turned to Ronnie [and said] 'And one!' and the ref off the ball called it ... Probably it looked a little more demonstrative [to him] because my back [was turned to him]. You can't see me.
"It's hard to control a normal reaction ... He could tell me to get my damn hand down, or 'What are you doing?' or something, only because it was at that point in the game."
Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said after he didn't agree with the call, and Phil Jackson was plain spoken in his disapproval. ""I was unhappy about the situation that happened with Lamar," Jackson said. "I don't think the NBA wants that type of thing to happen but that's part of the residual that's going to happen off of the policy they have."
The play spoiled what was otherwise a very strong game from Odom: 22 points, 11 rebounds, four assists. He was particularly strong early, giving the Lakers a first-quarter lift. Odom scored L.A.'s second basket, flowing to the rim and accepting a lob from Kobe, a play the Lakers run early in one form or another in just about every game. From there, Odom attacked the rack off the dribble, worked to get down low for good post position, and made himself available near the rim.
But that T was harsh, and while it will overshadow a lot of his good work on the evening, Odom is sure to get plenty of sympathy from the basketball universe.
Adding insult to injury (perhaps literally), Odom also said he'd undergo an MRI Monday on a sore right foot. Obviously, any injury to Odom would have a major impact on the Lakers, particularly while Andrew Bynum is still sidelined.
3. Shannon Brown -- There are games in which you can see the growth of Brown's game, and the fourth quarter tonight was one. It wasn't simply that he made some big shots, again knocking down a pair of critical 3-pointers, but also setting up baskets. One sequence resulting in a corner three from Brown started with him penetrating off the dribble, drawing the D, and making the correct pass to Luke Walton in the opposite corner. Walton reversed the floor with a skip pass to Matt Barnes on the far wing, who found Brown -- staying involved in the play and noting the proper spacing -- in the corner for the shot. Brown started the play, and ended it.
Plus/minus isn't always a great stat to note for individual games -- too many things can jimmy the figures -- but it's not surprising to see Brown a plus-eight for the night, nor to be playing big fourth quarter minutes.
Turnovers -- The Lakers, for most of the season, have taken pretty good care of the ball. Not tonight. The Suns aren't exactly a bunch of defensive stalwarts, and still the home team turned the ball over 18 times. Kobe was the primary offender, with a whopping eight giveaways on his own. Frankly, there could have been more, because more than once Kobe caught a lucky break on a forced pass. Bryant also had 14 assists, so it's not as if he was unwilling to move the ball, but too often he tried to force the ball where it couldn't go. Gasol chipped in with four more.
The Lakers are lucky the Suns managed to turn the freebies into only 12 points, but given the relative ease with which they scored, had the Lakers maintained better control, it's not hard to believe they'd have finished with enough points to win.
Closing on Shooters -- First things first: Phoenix shot 40 threes, and made a franchise (and near NBA) record 22. In the first quarter, they were five-for-nine, in the second seven-of-11. Conventional wisdom (and statistical probability) said the Suns would slow down in the third ... and they were six-of-nine. It's almost impossible to stick with a team generating so many extra points off jumpers. As the Suns cooled off near the end of the fourth, the Lakers closed the gap.Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Jason Richardson had a three-ball party at the expense of the Lakers Sunday night.
I tend not to think this sort of thing will happen again, given that it's never happened before. "They just continued to make them," Bryant said with a shrug. "We put guys in the gym by themselves, it's tough to shoot that percentage from three."
Gasol seemed relatively unbothered by Phoenix's attack, at least in principle. "You want a team to settle for 40 [three-pointers], he said. "Obviously, when they make 22 it gives you problems because that's a lot of points, so they shot the ball really well."
"Our philosophy is those things even out after time," Jackson said, "but they didn't tonight. A team's going to make a certain percentage of threes. If they make ten in a ballgame, that's a high number. This team averages nine. So  is a really high number."
That said, as the barrage rained down, the Lakers absolutely lost their perimeter rotations. Both Bryant and Gasol said they thought the Lakers contested a lot of the efforts, but too many times the looks were clean. They didn't know who to close on, and when. Sometimes the Suns drilled shots with a hand in the face, but other times there was no hand in the vicinity. Maybe it was because of Phoenix's incredibly hot collective hand, but the Lakers seemed to lose communication too many times. Chalk some of this up to good fortune for Phoenix, but that many threes also can't come without a little help from the opposing defense.
Ron Artest -- The final line (13 points, 5-12 from the floor) wasn't disastrous, but Artest's decision making with the ball continues to be suspect. At points, I'm not sure Jackson was comfortable having him on the floor. Artest hasn't exactly built on last year's primer on the triangle. Something to watch, for sure.