No Kobe Bryant for the Lakers Saturday night, which is a shame. Given how he lights up the Suns like the Las Vegas strip, his production might have come in handy. Although in the end it wasn't points the Lakers needed, but prevention.
L.A. drops a second straight game, getting waxed by a much hungrier Phoenix squad, completely collapsing after a strong enough start. Here are six takeaways...
1. Tonight's defensive formation: Porous.
Anyone looking for a play truly summarizing the horror that was L.A.'s performance against the Suns defensively could choose any number of open perimeter jumpers surrendered, some in the half court, some in semi-transition, some on the run. They might choose any number of instances in which players simply didn't get back fast enough. Or at all. Or were a little too self-congratulatory after a bucket, letting the Suns run right by them. All of these issues contributed to the Suns racking up 99 points by the end of the third quarter.
My favorite, though, came in the second half when for the eleventyzillionth time, the Suns went high screen. Pau Gasol came out to hedge on Steve Nash up top, Robin Lopez rolled to the bucket. Literally nobody in purple and gold moved. No rotation, no help, no nothing. Gasol could only wave his arms trying to recover as the ball went over the top for an easy deuce.
In short, the Lakers were awful. Give Phoenix credit for hitting all sorts of shots. Guys like Shannon Brown and Sebastian Telfair, who have always had relatively shaky perimeter games, were en fuego. But overall, the Lakers weren't good, putting no pressure on the ball (three turnovers for the Suns), and never forcing any changes in their attack. This has been the trend, one that will sink them if they're not careful.
Along those lines...
2. The Lakers need to slow down.
A few weeks back, the Lakers realized they could get up and down the floor a little more effectively than they had been over the course of the season. Maybe they saw the Synergy numbers, which on a points-per-play basis had them as one of the league's most efficient teams in transition. Certainly the addition of Ramon Sessions, faster up and down the court than any player they've had in a long time, only encouraged a higher pace of play. But as we noted after Friday's loss, just because you can doesn't mean you should.
The Lakers simply have to be judicious in how they choose to push pace, the way they use the shot clock, and what kinds of shots they generate. Tempo must be their friend, and a consistently quick pace plays to their worst tendencies. It encourages home run plays, which they too frequently botch. It leads to poor shot selection, which puts pressure on very, very shaky transition defense. When the halfcourt D is built around a pair of seven footers, asking those guys to run up and down the floor for extra trip after extra trip is counter productive.
Watching the Lakers grind out every score wasn't any fun, and they absolutely needed to figure out ways to generate easy points. Now the pendulum has swung too far the other way.
3. Devin Ebanks showed a lot of poise.
To say Ebanks fell out of the rotation after kicking off the season in the starting lineup would be a massive understatement. Dude had played a grand total of five minutes since the calendar flipped to 2012. Tapped by Mike Brown to fill in for Kobe, Ebanks knocked off the rust and acquitted himself well. The big reason was poise. Rather than step on the floor overly geeked, trying to prove to the world why he deserves more playing time, Ebanks sought to do the little things. Crash the glass, keep plays alive, run the floor, shoot only when it's the right shot. As a result, he finished with 10 points in the first half, four coming on the break, four on putbacks, and one bucket on the drive.
In the second half, Ebanks again hit the glass, grabbing two more offensive boards and another putback. He wasn't a statistical monster and made some very obvious mistakes defensively (not surprising, and he had company) but if you asked Brown before the game if he'd take 12 points and four offensive rebounds from Ebanks, I'm sure the answer would have been yes.
4. On a night where the Lakers turned to a second year player drafted as a small forward because Kobe Bryant was out, Shannon Brown scored 20 points. In the third quarter.
The moral of the story not being that the Lakers should have re-signed Brown, or that Mike Brown should have chosen Andrew Goudelock to play the 2 in Bryant's absence instead of Ebanks (who was, as noted, pretty good), but that the Lakers don't have a real backup shooting guard.
5. It was a mixed bag for the bigs.
Andrew Bynum was cold early, forcing a lot of shots and coming up empty. By the end of the first quarter, he had hoisted a whopping 14 shots, only making four. Not exactly the sort of efficiency upon which he's built his All-Star season. Still, rather than drift through the game (a trend these days), Bynum ripped down eight rebounds over the first 12 minutes. Offensively, things didn't get much better for him as the game went on. He missed 17 of the 27 shots he took on the night, and couldn't bolster his bad floor game at the line. While Drew earned nine free throws, he only made three. He kept rebounding, though, finishing with 18 for the game, including seven on the offensive end.
Gasol was much more efficient from the floor, making 14 of his 25 attempts, but because he was generally hanging out around the perimeter, Pau went to the line only twice. Like Bynum, Gasol was good on the glass (13, four offensive), and the two of them were a big reason the Lakers finished +18 on the boards.
By definition, neither was much help defensively -- 125 points allowed, people -- and I definitely think fatigue was a problem for both. This was L.A.'s sixth game in eight nights, and it showed. Even though Bynum missed one game in full, and the fourth quarter of another, both of these guys have piled up minutes, which is why getting sucked into a track meet was such a bad idea.
6. The bench was terrible.
Forget what the Suns got from their reserves (58 points, vs. 10 for L.A.), because the Lakers need to be judged in more of a vacuum. And in that vacuum, they were totally ineffective. Matt Barnes, 1-0f-9 against Houston Friday, was 1-of-7 tonight. Steve Blake had more turnovers (3) than field goal attempts (1) and assists (1) combined, and was routinely exploited defensively. Most importantly, those two plus Josh McRoberts were all double digit negatives in the plus/minus column.
The team needed much, much more.