LOS ANGELES -- For those seeking positives, this was probably the best game the Lakers have played in this young season. No Steve Nash. Dwight Howard in foul trouble all night. A high-quality opponent. A legitimate argument can be made that this losing effort was a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, this is professional sports, not little league, so the threshold for moral victories is exceptionally low. Particularly when the team features four potential Hall of Famers and a payroll just south of the national debt. An 0-3 record isn't a reason for panic, but the Lakers need to start winning, and ASAP.
Here are four takeaways from the game.
(1) Kobe Bryant became the franchise's all-time leader in steals.
Fittingly, the record-book swipe Friday resulted in a breakaway layup for Kobe, indicative of a night on which he took whatever he wanted. With Nash's absence, Howard's personals, the team-wide lack of cohesion, the winless record and the open-secret animosity between these teams, that Kobe would enter takeover mode was fairly predictable. And the result was a seriously impressive display of his offensive arsenal. Forty points on a very tidy 23 shots. Fadeaways. Pump-fake jumpers. Reverse layups. I liked how, by and large, Kobe worked to get shots from the free throw and elbows inward, which played a large role in his efficient output. He also attacked the rack and earned 10 trips to the stripe for his troubles. That aggressiveness was unfortunately the catalyst for a few turnovers, but on the whole, it served Bryant well.
In a big picture sense, Bryant's fingerprints smeared so heavily over a game probably isn't the greatest thing in the world for the Lakers. On Friday night, however, his performance felt like a dogged quest for survival. Can't really say I blame that impulse.
(2) The defense improved in spurts but remains a work in progress.
Whatever defensive lapses occurred weren't typically the result of lacking energy. On the whole, I thought the Lakers demonstrated vigor and determination, and their best moments often were the direct result of hustle. Unfortunately, as the late John Wooden famously put it, "Don't mistake activity for achievement." However sincere the effort, it didn't consistently amount to stops, particularly when it came to guarding the 3-point line or defending without fouling (27 trips to the line). Both were areas in which the Lakers succeeded last season, even while inconsistent defensively. On Friday night, lapses along these lines were costly. Closeouts were often frantically late, and boxouts were even worse. Nine offensive rebounds were surrendered, which played a key part in the Clips' gaudy 20 second chance points. That's simply unacceptable.
In the meantime, the Lakers remain as vulnerable as ever in transition. Purple-and-gold defenders regularly found themselves on the wrong end of a scrambling attempt to slow the Clippers in motion, more often than not the byproduct of a Lakers turnover.
(3) And speaking of the turnovers ...
Stop. Seriously, Lakers. Knock it off. Beyond how bad you are at defending while on your heels, you're not prolific enough to afford wasted possessions. Between the dangerous cross-court passes, the bounce passes into traffic and the ham hands periodically displayed (Pau Gasol in particular was stricken with the dropsies), the 20 turnovers recorded actually felt low. Perhaps that's because, for this team, the sum really is just another day at the office.
(4) Antawn Jamison needs to shoot more.
It felt symbolic in a way that the first three points scored by the Lakers' sixth man were created by off-ball cuts on two different possessions, the first sending him to the line and the second resulting in a layup. One on hand, action away from the ball complements the system being run and demonstrated Jamison's proficiency in the Princeton, which he ran for several seasons in D.C. under Eddie Jordan. On the other hand, these shots were created for him, a reminder of how oddly reluctant the career 19.5 ppg scorer has been to put up the ball. Never one to meet an unorthodox, herky-jerky flip shot he didn't like -- much less a conventional one -- Jamison has been largely content as a Laker to let everyone else get theirs.
Unselfishness is always a great thing in theory, but here's the problem for the Lakers. Jamison was imported specifically to provide the Lakers with a scoring threat at all times whenever the reserves are on the floor, a guy who can offset the presences of guys such as Steve Blake, Devin Ebanks and Jordan Hill, none of whom can be counted on for production. Without Jamison producing points, this season's bench is essentially last season's, which ain't a good thing. And in the meantime, Jamison isn't necessarily a player steeped in "intangibles." If he's not scoring, you're typically not getting much else (Friday's six boards notwithstanding).
I don't know whether he's uncomfortable or trying to let others learning the offense discover their spots, but Jamison needs to become more aggressive while on the floor.