If it's worrisome to drop consecutive games to Miami and Orlando on the road, what does losing Sunday at home mean?
The Lakers drop to 10-8, with another tough game coming Wednesday against the Clippers. There is still much to be done over the next few days.
Here are five takeaways.
1. The Lakers should have used a timeout before their final possession.
After a great defensive stand gave them the ball back down a point with about thirty seconds to go, the Lakers went up the floor and ran a play -- I use this term loosely -- without using any of the timeouts they had available (a pair of 20's, and a full). For a team struggling in the half court, particularly in high leverage situations, the results were predictable. The Pacers sent the kitchen sink at Kobe Bryant. He made a baseline pass of the screen to Pau Gasol, who quickly gave it back to Bryant at the right wing.
Again, the Pacers sent the house. Kobe kicked to Derek Fisher at the top of the arc, who penetrated and badly missed a floater in the lane. (POSTGAME UPDATE: Following the game, Fisher noted the play was a lob to Andrew Bynum, not a shot, though he believes in hindsight he'd have been better off going ahead and trying to score given the way Indiana responded to his penetration, then given Bynum a shot at an offensive rebound.)
Indy gets the ball back, hits two free throws, and the rest is history.
I'm not opposed to getting up the court without the timeout, because it doesn't allow the defense to set... assuming we're talking about a team comfortable in its execution. The Lakers clearly are not. They needed to get everyone on the same page.
It's impossible to say whether they'd have scored out of the TO, but it's equally impossible to believe they wouldn't have had a better look.
POSTGAME UPDATE: Brown said following the game he considered calling timeout, and probably should have: "I was going to, but Kobe had the ball in the open court, and I didn't want their defense to get set. I started to call one, and then I pulled back. Obviously, in hindsight I should have called whether Kobe had the ball or not. They did a heck of a job getting the stop, but it came down to me looking and seeing Kobe with the ball in the open floor against a defense that wasn't set."
2. Pau Gasol is did a lot of really great stuff, but needs to score more.
I counted at least five or six great plays from Gasol on the defensive end in the first quarter alone. Early, he made a pair of great rotations on the same trip, using those long arms to block a David West baseline jumper. On the restart, he forced West into a travel. He worked high on the floor in the pick and roll forcing Darren Collison a couple yards towards halfcourt, then quickly recovered on Tyler Hansbrough to contest a shot at the rim. He made another spectacular play later, challenging Collison's penetration in the lane and recovering fast enough after the dish to block Lou Amundson.
Offensively, Pau was excellent in distribution, often working at the elbow to feed Kobe in a variety of plays out of the strong side corner (a play they must have run 15 times in one form or another). On the break, he made one of the best passes I've ever seen, when from the right corner Kobe hit a streaking Pau in the lane. Gasol went touch pass, no look, over his back shoulder to Bynum, who was fouled and sent to the line. In the fourth, he set up Bynum for a lob, then a streaking Matt Barnes through the lane for a dunk, putting the Lakers up a point with 2:26 to play, and to Derek Fisher on the wing for a jumper pushing the lead to three.
He finished with a team-leading 10 assists.
Gasol was reasonably good on the glass, too, considering many of his defensive assignments drew him away from the rim.
What was missing was the scoring. Gasol made only three of his eight shots in the first half. In the second, he only took four shots (two coming in a meaningless sequence at the end of the game), and scored two points (on said meaningless sequence). Normally, I might excuse the low point total because the rest of his floor game was so good. Unfortunately, it's part of a larger trend the Lakers and Gasol need to make sure doesn't become the norm. He's a brilliant passer, and as good a facilitator as the Lakers have. It would be too easy for Mike Brown to lean on him in that role -- too rare were the moments he was planted in the post to start a play -- and too easy for Gasol to accept it, subjugate his own scoring in the process.
It can't happen, if the Lakers are going to be successful. Gasol must be a scorer as well. They don't have enough weapons for him not to be.
POSTGAME UPDATE: Gasol made it very clear after the game he'd like to be used in the low post more than he was during the second half. Not necessarily that he wanted more shots-- though I think he'd happily welcome more clear opportunities to score-- but more options and variety in how he's deployed. It's not a question of him getting down to the block and demanding the ball. These are set calls they're working with.
Stay tuned for Lakers Late Night and check out the postgame video for more on this.
3. The Lakers are capable of helping themselves in transition.
According to Synergy, the Lakers entered Sunday's game generating a robust 1.176 points per play in transition. The problem, then, isn't efficiency but frequency. In the first quarter, Sunday, the Lakers saw the benefits of getting out on the break. Seven of their 27 points in the opening frame came on the break. The quick play forced Indiana into a ton of fouls, putting them into the penalty early and accounting for 14 trips to the line for the Lakers over the first 12 minutes. It's easy to see why the Lakers managed to post a nice number despite shooting under 40 percent.
There are three basic ways to earn "easy" points in the NBA: Transition points, free throws, and 3-pointers. We know the last one isn't a choice right now. The Lakers are the league's worst team from downtown, and probably did themselves a favor by only trying nine shots behind the arc Sunday, including four through three quarters. They were strong all night getting to the line (33 FTA's in total, though the conversion rate -- 22-- wasn't good), but unfortunately weren't able to keep up the first quarter pace on the run.
Following those seven points on the break in the first, they added only three more over the course of the game. They're not a classic running team, or even an unconventional one. It's not a strength, but the Lakers can't be afraid to push. If they're not going to shoot the three effectively, those points have to be made up somewhere. The way they're operating now puts enormous pressure on their half court offense.
A few more easy points would serve as a release valve for some of that build up.
4. Kobe Bryant carried Friday's controlled effort into tonight's game.
The shot totals were higher (30 overall), but some of that is a function of game flow and personnel. He had a few "end-of-clock-here-you-shoot!" hoists, and when Brown ran him with the reserves, Bryant was forced to generate offense in one form or another, or else shots weren't coming at all. Overall, though, he worked in the flow of the game, made a bunch of great passes teammates only periodically converted (along with a few hockey assists), and didn't force much. Sunday's game is a perfect example of why looking just at Kobe's shot total is misleading. It doesn't account for the sheer volume of plays called in his direction (many, Sunday), how well he might or might not have moved the rock, and so on.
There were some defensive lapses, but on the offensive end at least he played a strong game. 33 points, four assists, plus eight rebounds.
5. When Metta World Peace scores, it makes a huge difference.
In the six games he played before Sunday, MWP had a total-- total-- of 13 points. In the first quarter Sunday, he put up nine in the second quarter. The big reason was placement. While World Peace did manage to knock down a triple (likely filling his quota for the rest of January), for the most part Mike Brown planted him in the post and let him do stuff. Burly, muscle-y, inelegant stuff, but that's how he rolls. The less time Metta spends on the perimeter, the better.
He'd finish with 11, so obviously the explosion ended in the first half, but it doesn't really matter when the points come. Some production, any production, is welcome.
6. Sunday was the rare game where L.A. scored enough to win, and didn't.
They didn't turn the ball over (eight overall), and by their standards 96 points is an outburst. Unfortunately, Indiana was able to get clutch buckets when needed, particularly from three. The Lakers, after a very strong start to the game on their end, deteriorated over the final three quarters. Indiana shot 50 percent in the second half, obviously far too high.
Just goes to show, sometimes even good defensive teams can be compromised.
Not trying to excuse the letdowns, because the Lakers have been and must be better. But occasionally, the capacity to outscore the other guys is needed. The Lakers just don't have it right now.