If the collective purpose for the Lakers and Jazz in Tuesday night's game at Staples was to set basketball back about 50 years, congratulations on a spectacular effort. If it was to entertain those in attendance ... yikes. Describing the lack of quality in a way to do it justice is difficult. The teams combined for 19 turnovers in the first half, and in the second quarter produced 12 points over the first eight minutes of play, just to toss out a couple of "for examples."
With the loss, the Lakers very likely have polished off any chance of catching either San Antonio or Chicago in the standings, but on the other side have left themselves open to Miami, only one game behind in the loss column, and Boston (also one game back, though the Lakers own the tiebreaker over the Celtics).
Lamar Odom called it the worst loss of the year. "This wasn't us," he said. Not in the big picture, no, but for one night, it was, resulting in a potentially costly loss. Though we might have to wait until June to find out.
Here's how it broke down (and I mean that literally)...
1. Kobe Bryant. Worst game of the season? Probably, since I'm having trouble remembering a game in the past few years when he played this poorly. More turnovers (seven) than field goals (six). Sure, he led the team in scoring with 20 points but also took 18 shots to get there, 17 of which came in the second half after Kobe took a back seat offensively over the first 24 minutes.
The end of the fourth quarter basically summarized his entire game. With about 4:30 remaining, he got caught in the air off dribble penetration and misfired on a pass to Ron Artest at the arc for a turnover. With under 2:30 remaining, he took a horrible early-clock triple against Gordon Hayward, missing badly, though fortunately bailed out by a Johnny-on-the-spot Lamar Odom, who corralled the rebound for a score. Even when things started looking up for 24, they didn't stick. He hit a critical 3 to bring L.A. within three with 1:17 remaining, then drew an equally important foul on Hayward at the other end.
Kobe came back with a triple, tying the score at 85-85, but on the ensuing Jazz possession lost Hayward through a series of screens, then got his hand on Hayward's hip as the rookie drove the lane. A savvy play he'll often get away with, but on this night he got caught, and it cost the Lakers a pair of free throws, giving Utah the lead. Then, there was the final trip -- Kobe isolates on Hayward, tries to step through ... and loses the ball out of bounds, walking off the court staring at his hands.
Everyone has off nights, but perhaps the biggest problem with Kobe's game was how he seemed to get sucked into a competition with Hayward, who was doing great work against him on both ends. Were there a few calls that could have gone Kobe's way? Sure. But Bryant didn't pay Hayward nearly enough attention defensively, then tried to show him up offensively. It's a bad habit. If you ever want to find a fantasy sleeper, pick a player who Kobe might guard, assuming Bryant has zero respect for his game.
Kobe wasn't the only guy who played poorly -- in that he had plenty of company -- but play poorly he did.
2. Turnovers. 19. This after surrendering only nine against the Jazz in Friday's game. Shave off even a few of those mistakes, and likely the Lakers escape with a win despite the horrid showing.
3. Bench Play. Odom finished with 11 points but needed 12 shots to get there. Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, Shannon Brown and Luke Walton -- who was particularly awful in his five minutes of run -- combined for eight points on 4-for-14 shooting from the field. Even some of their "successful" plays as a group, weren't. Brown had two field goals -- one on a spectacular alley-oop from Blake (that was legit), but the other on an ill-advised driving step-back on the baseline after he passed up a better shot on the perimeter.
Overall, Brown continues to struggle, spending far too much time putting the ball on the floor and not nearly enough time moving it (a problem evidenced by his 1-to-1 assist/turnover ratio against the Jazz).
4. Perimeter Shooting. The Lakers missed their first 13 3-point shots, then made their 14th when Odom banked one in. Overall, they finished 4-for-20.
There were other bits of ugliness. The Lakers were outrebounded, out-competed, out-interested, out-everything'd against a weak visiting team. The ball movement was bad, the player movement was worse, and therefore it's no surprise the Lakers lost.
5. Fourth-Quarter D. Through the first three quarters, the Jazz mustered all of 57 points, identical to their total over the final three quarters when the teams met Friday night in Utah. In the fourth, however, Utah exploded for 29 points, shooting over 60 percent as a team. How exactly does that happen?
1. Andrew Bynum. Offensively, Bynum had a very rough start: 2-of-10 at one point, before heating up down the stretch with a couple of critical and-one opportunities and a nice jump hook in the lane. But on the other end, Bynum absolutely dominated the action from start to finish. Matched up for large stretches against Al Jefferson, Bynum moved his feet well, pushed Utah's best offensive player away from the bucket and did great work contesting, whether Jefferson tried to face up or use post moves. Fortunately for the Lakers, he also found time to contest just about every other shot the Jazz took while he was on the floor. He had four blocked shots -- two coming on one possession in the third quarter -- and altered countless more.
Then there were the rebounds, a career-high 23. Bynum basically ate up all the space around the glass, ripping balls away from opponents and teammates alike if they went after the ball. No shock that coach Phil Jackson left him in the game down the stretch, instead of using Odom. Bynum earned the crunch-time minutes.
2. Defense (First Three Quarters). Particularly in the first half. The Lakers held Utah to 33 percent shooting (14-for-42) and kept the Jazz off the free throw line (only eight FTs total before the half, just two in the first). This despite shooting under 40 percent on the other end and turning the ball over 10 times, leading to 12 of Utah's 34 points. The Lakers had seven blocks as a team, four steals and forced nine turnovers. The third quarter was solid as well; the Lakers allowed only nine makes on 25 hoists for the Jazz. Yes, things got loose in the fourth, but any time a team holds the opposition to 57 points through three quarters, they should win.
3. Pau Gasol. He was about as good as the Lakers got offensively. He had 19 points, fueled by 11 trips to the line, plus four assists. Defensively, he was active inside, though Bynum didn't exactly leave a lot of stats to accrue on the glass. Gasol blocked a couple of shots and did good work altering others. Not a work of art, but this game didn't produce any.