A reasonable argument can be made that Tuesday's win in Oakland against the Warriors was just as frustrating and infuriating as Thursday's loss to the Thunder (don't get me started on Saturday's game, either). Both highlighted shortcomings on the team, but at least Oklahoma City is arguably the league's best squad. The Thunder, Golden State is not. Instead, the Warriors are a bad, woefully undersized group that entered Tuesday's game having lost six of eight (and now nine of 11, for those keeping score).
Their season-long road issues notwithstanding, with a little discipline, the Lakers should and would have won Tuesday's tilt going away.
Fair to say discipline was in short supply. The shenanigans surrounding Andrew Bynum's 3-pointer/benching and fourth-quarter loafing/benching distracts from the myriad other ways the Lakers nearly mucked up that game, blowing 11-point leads in each of the first two quarters, then a 14-point lead in the third. A game in which the Lakers win the rebounding battle by 17 and take nearly twice as many free throws (34 versus 18) shouldn't require a pair of baseline jumpers from Kobe Bryant to secure the victory. Only their own sloppiness in execution and lack of consistent focus explains the final score.
Sunday night, the Lakers have an opportunity to right a wrong, and restore a little faith in their ability to handle the business that should be handled. The sort of thing they didn't do Saturday against the Hornets. Here are five things to watch ...
1. Put a body on David Lee defensively.
The Warriors didn't do much damage on the offensive glass, grabbing only eight boards despite missing 52 shots. Lee, though, had four, helping fuel a 23-point effort. With Steph Curry on the shelf, Monta Ellis in Milwaukee, and Andrew Bogut still not suiting up for Golden State, Lee is easily the Warriors' most reliable offensive weapon. He had a manageable 23 points on 21 shots Tuesday, but anything the Lakers can do to limit easy opportunities helps. The Warriors are still among the league's more efficient offenses, and rank fourth in Synergy's points per play measurements in the half court.
What they aren't is a strong offensive rebounding team, as only Boston grabs a lower percentage of their own misses. L.A. can't afford to give them an unexpected source of points.
2. Attack Lee offensively.
He can't score if he's in foul trouble. Early in Tuesday's game, the Lakers took advantage of Lee's defensive shortcomings early and often, whether one-on-one in the post with Pau Gasol, or with dribble penetration/good interior passing forcing Lee to rotate and help. No matter the method, it's important to make Lee play defense. For that matter, the Lakers can test Golden State's frontcourt as a whole. It can't guard Andrew Bynum, either. Really, it can't guard anyone, which is why it's among the NBA's worst defensive teams.
A nice segue to ...
3. Don't settle, don't stand still.
The Lakers have a massive advantage in the post, with Bynum and Gasol working against a team without a significant rotation player taller than 6-foot-9. Tuesday, the Warriors frequently collapsed on entry passes into the post, so the bigs will need to be alert, making quick pass-or-shoot decisions, but the Lakers can't be content with making one entry pass in any given possession. Post, repost, and force Golden State to make choices. Tuesday night, Golden State gummed up L.A.'s offense with -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- a zone D. Expect Mark Jackson to try it again Sunday, particularly in light of how well it worked for New Orleans on Saturday. When the Warriors do, every early jumper the Lakers take does Golden State a favor.
The Warriors have little choice but to hope the Lakers do some of the work for them. No matter what defensive schemes they use, if the Lakers stay patient, the numbers say Golden State eventually breaks down.
4. Ramon Sessions has to play more.
There are some issues regarding Mike Brown's ever-changing rotations on which I'm fairly agnostic. His bench options aren't great, and often require mixing and matching on any given night. He was handed a roster without a viable option backing up Kobe. More consistency would be great, but I'm willing to offer a little leeway in some areas. One place I won't is with Ramon Sessions. At this point, there's no reason he shouldn't play as much as the Big Three. He is clearly the team's fourth-best player, bringing speed and penetration the offense badly needs. While he's still learning the team's defensive principles and makes a lot more mistakes than it might seem, the bottom line is simple: The Lakers are a better team with him on the floor.
After twice getting him into the 36-minute range, Brown has Sessions closer to 31 over the past three games. Much too low.
5. Pay attention.
Frankly, very little the Warriors do should make much of a difference. They can make life tougher for the Lakers, but fundamentally lack the depth and talent to win, unless the Lakers do their work for them. I understand teams don't floor it every minute of every game through the season. Some degree of measurement is required. Except the Lakers aren't in a place where they can expect to put away a lesser team with 10 minutes of high-end play. These Lakers have to engage for 48 minutes. Not play like it's Game 7 of the Finals, but engage. They need to find ways to get Bryant, who copped to some fatigue following Saturday's game, on the bench for some rest, because Mike Brown isn't going to shave his minutes, otherwise.
If they're going to have some postseason juice in the tank, the Lakers have to stop making games against lesser opposition harder than they should.