A week or so ago I was asked on the radio to forecast the Lakers' first five games. I called two Lakers losses, and Wednesday's game at Utah was one. Salt Lake City is always a tough place to play, particularly when the Jazz have some talent, as they do now.
Moral of the story: I can't say I'm shocked the Lakers lost, because it could have happened even if things were going well. It's how they lost giving me (and Lakers fans worldwide) pause. Particularly now that their record has dropped to 1-4, with the victory coming courtesy of a hapless Detroit team. Credible squads are having their way with them.
Here are four takeaways from Wednesday's game:
You only thought the Lakers were struggling offensively
Yes, Steve Nash isn't yet comfortable. Yes, they turn the ball over at almost absurd rates. But, really, the Lakers haven't lost in the early going because of the offense. They entered tonight's game in Utah well into the top-10 in efficiency. The defense, meanwhile, has been a major drag. Anyone unsure of the distinction got a taste Wednesday night. The Lakers shot 34 percent as a team and didn't crack the 80-point barrier until late in the fourth quarter. They scored 17 points in the first and 16 in the third. Steve Blake and Metta World Peace combined to miss seven of their first nine 3-point attempts, and as a team L.A. finished 4-of-23 from distance.
And, as is their custom, the Lakers were far too generous, with 18 turnovers on the night, including six from Kobe Bryant. Pau Gasol was a complete non-factor, scoring only five points on 2-of-9 shooting and lacking any push to the free throw line (only two attempts). Add in a weak night on the glass (stuck on five TRB's until late in the game, finishing with a soft seven) and it was a very poor evening for the Spaniard.
Dwight Howard was efficient enough (7-of-11, 19 points) and Kobe attacked relentlessly (17 FTA's), but overall the Lakers were too flat, too frequently, and paid for it.
The Lakers need to stop whining
In the first half, Howard thought he was fouled by Utah's Enis Kanter and stopped to complain about the no-call. Kanter, meanwhile, hauled down the floor and scored. Howard never entered the frame. In the second half, Kobe thought he was hacked, assumed a foul and, once again, the Lakers were burned in transition . But the worst was when both Kobe and Gasol were late getting back because Pau stopped to watch Kobe complaining about contact uncalled. Maybe Gasol anticipated a whistle, but c'mon, man. Get back.
As a rule, the Lakers allow this sort of thing to happen far too often, especially for a team operating without much margin for error. It's something Mike Brown has talked about now for over a season, but hasn't managed to fix. Moreover, the Lakers didn't have sustained energy, or show the requisite amount of mental strength. Utah was quicker to seemingly every loose ball. At one point, off a dead ball under the Utah bucket, the Lakers were beat in transition.
Off a dead ball! Against good teams -- Utah made the playoffs last season and has a chance to improve this year -- this sort of laziness will almost always be punished.
The Lakers bench was again a non-factor ...
... save for Jordan Hill, at least, who was his typically energetic, garbage-man self: 12 rebounds, including seven offensive, in 22:36.
Overall, a group of reserves entering the game averaging just under 19 points a game (29th in the NBA) scored only 13 Wednesday. Hill, Devin Ebanks, Antawn Jamison and Darius Morris hit but four of their 15 shots.
And the whole experiment of Metta World Peace as a backup 2 didn’t play particularly well. Putting him in positions where he's asked to be a scorer is a request for doom in one form or another. Wednesday, MWP missed nine of 12 shots, and was blocked three times. Meanwhile, Jamison continued his offensive struggles and wasn't well hidden at the 3, defensively. (Matching Metta with backcourt players doesn't play to his strengths, either.) That's a bad combination.
Brown is still in the chicken vs. egg stage with his second unit. Are the reserves not playing well because Brown keeps their minutes down, or are the minutes down because they're not playing well? Either way, Brown has to find a more productive rotation and stretch out the floor time before he burns out his starters.
Jamison has to pick it up, and it'll be interesting to see how long someone like Jodie Meeks, a legitimate floor stretcher, continues to be the odd man out.
The Lakers just aren't on the same page
Whether you're talking offensively, where the team's turnover figures are fueled by confusion -- player A zigs when a zag is expected -- or the other end, where it's obvious the Lakers don't yet know where the rotations are coming from, the Lakers don't have an idea of what teammates are doing. Confusion breeds frustration, and frustration only feeds their lesser tendencies.
All of it needs fixing.