The Lakers entered this contest with a 1-6 road record, but I was willing to cut them some degree of slack. Yes, championship-caliber teams can win on the road, but at the same time, the majority of their losses have come against quality teams. Portland. Denver. Miami. Orlando. The Clippers. You'd like to see better results, but at the same time, this perspective, along with the knowledge of how little practice time the Lakers have received, can perhaps quell whatever urge to push a panic button.
However, a loss to a sub-.500 Milwaukee Bucks team playing the second end of a back-to-back and short Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson? That's a different story. I wouldn't blame any member of the Laker Nation who requires a strait jacket to avoid jamming that big, shiny red button. Here are five takeaways from the loss.
1) The Lakers are a team that simply can't afford to the turn the ball over.
Offensively, they're not smooth and prolific enough to waste possessions, and defensively, they're too slow to survive possessions constantly on their heels in transition. These realities came to an ugly head during the first half, when the Lakers continually gave the ball away against a Bucks team, as I noted in the morning's What to Watch post, already skilled at forcing turnovers. The Lakers coughed the ball up 10 times due to carelessness, along with the inability to dribble out of ball pressure.
That this team isn't flush with quality ball-handlers isn't exactly a government secret, but Saturday, that deficiency was comically bad. The Bucks wisely decided to pressure anybody with the ball, and too often, this approach resulted in the Lakers struggling mightily to counter. Even getting the ball across halfcourt to avoid an eight-second violation wasn't a given. The lowlight might have come when Troy Murphy, of all people, found himself isolated at the right elbow. With one defender in his grill and zero options at his disposal to counter, the Notre Dame product stood helplessly holding the ball for anywhere from seven to 10 seconds. The inevitable strip came courtesy of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, followed by the inevitable transition dunk.
It was a microcosm of the Lakers' utter failure to deal with crowded quarters. They did a better job taking care of the ball in the second half, but by then any semblance of rhythm was already destroyed.
2) Extra practice did nothing to help improve offensive fluidity
In fact, it appeared to create more confusion. Far too often, 10+ seconds were wasted just getting into anything remotely resembling a set. The spacing was often terrible, with players bumping into each other and overcrowding the same real estate. For about five or so minutes in the first quarter, the Lakers were operating in symphony. From there, it was nothing but wrong notes delivered off-key like Carl Lewis singing the National Anthem.
This is tough to overcome under the best of circumstances, and when your defense isn't as typically crisp, it's basically impossible.
3) Pau Gasol did not sustain the momentum of his strong effort against the Clippers.
Excitement filled the air after the Lakers' win over their Staples Center roomies, with the most hoopla directed towards Gasol. After several days complaining about the limitations of his role, Gasol responded for 23 points, 10 rebounds and a boatload of aggressive play. Kobe Bryant said afterward Pau relocated the chip on his shoulder from the 2009 and 2010 seasons and appeared optimistic this mindset would bleed into the remainder of the season.
So far, not so good.
Instead came a mix of the indecision we've seen throughout much of this season, plus clanged shots he's counted on to make. (He even missed the rim altogether on a hook shot.) With his back to the basket, Pau was often hesitant. Faced up against a smaller Mbah a Moute, perhaps concerned about the Bruin's mobility and quick hands, he was reluctant to drive and off the mark on his jumpers. Defensively, he was often late to close and slow to challenge shots. By night's end, he appeared gassed.
Yes, Gasol had 15 rebounds, seven on the offensive end, plus a smattering of nice plays. He even attacked the rim for a strong left-handed dunk. But more is expected, especially on a night where the supporting cast is struggling. Pau didn't come through and it was disappointing to see him step backward after such a strong showing.
4) Andrew Goudelock, however, did come through.
Clearly confident at the prospect of virtually guaranteed PT with no shoulder to look over, Andrew Goudelock made good again on his opportunity to play point guard-in-name-only minutes behind Derek Fisher. His 13 points nearly doubled the combined output of his fellow reserves (not counting Darius Morris' four in garbage time), and more important, he was aggressive while largely avoiding ill-advised shots. In particular, the rook seems fond of his floater, an approach that treated him well. Of course, he was drafted as a shooter with serious range, and he confirmed that scouting report with a trio of 3-pointers.
Coach Mike Brown opted to play the kid deep into the fourth quarter, and I don't blame him. Save a few possessions where he looked as scrambled by pressure as his teammates, Goudelock's body language wasn't that of a first-year player.
5) Kobe Bryant needed WAYYYYYYYY more help.
All season, Kobe has been asked to walk a Cirque De Soleil tightrope as the team's leading scorer and primary play-maker. (No word yet on when he'll be charged with leading the team in blocks.) This is no easy task, but Kobe never has been less than willing, and typically able to succeed. Saturday was no exception.
One assist and two rebounds short of a triple double, Kobe's all-around skills were highlighted to great effect, if ultimately wasted. As a play-maker, he read double teams to find the open man with an ease befitting a high end point guard. He crashed the boards. And 13 of his 27 points came in the third quarter, as Bryant looked determined from the outset to carry his team to victory. Outside shots were drained to beat the buzzer. The rim was attacked. Catch-and-shoot attempts at the elbow were wet. There was even a gorgeous running hook in the lane.
There are fingers to be pointed all around the Laker locker room after this loss, but not in Kobe's direction. He did his share.