Said Mike D'Antoni after his first loss as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Wednesday night in Sacramento:
"I thought we were very lethargic. From the opening tap, the first half might have been the worst basketball I've seen in 10 years. We just didn't play well. But mostly because of the energy level, we're not running the floor, or anything. There was a little bit of defense early, but then that caved in toward the end."
Here are five takeaways.
Kobe doin' (way too much) work.
It's not just the 40 minutes of burn on the second night of a back-to-back after playing 39 on the front end and nursing a bad ankle -- though ain't none of that good -- but the amount of effort Bryant expended in an effort to keep the Lakers in it. As it has been throughout the season, he was outstanding. His 38 points included a dazzling display of outside shooting in the third quarter. Bryant started with a circus 3-pointer in the left corner, bailing the Lakers out of a bad possession. Then he stroked another off a pin down, and a third while spinning at the top of the key before firing. Bryant continually attacked off the screen, and as the game wore on got himself to the line.
Overall, those 38 points required only 20 shots from the floor. The Prius in your driveway isn't that efficient.
But all that performance required way too much work. The Lakers can't ask Bryant to play like this for long without a real threat of diminishing returns. Trip after trip, Bryant was made into both the main scoring threat and the primary ball distributor. He performed a similar function Tuesday against Brooklyn, but the level of engagement from his teammates was light years better, making his burden that much smaller. Given how long it might be before Steve Nash returns, they can't ask him to do it until he comes back, either.
Bringing me to ...
The bigs don't have their D'Antoni legs yet.
Dwight Howard had only two points in the first half. He finished the night with four shots and was a non-factor on that side of the ball. Howard was slow up and down the floor, and in the half court his mobility was way down. As a result he wasn't much of a threat as a roll man in high-screen sets. Because Sacramento didn't have to pay him much attention, they could focus it everywhere else, whether on Bryant or Gasol as a ball mover. To some degree, Wednesday night's performance was predictable. This is only Howard's second back-to-back since coming back from surgery. He played big minutes Tuesday and, like his teammates, is adjusting to the special sort of fitness required to play in D'Antoni's system. He'll get there eventually, but Howard was basically stuck in the mud on Wednesday.
At least he had company. Pau Gasol was a little more active but no more effective. He had only three (one a dunk in garbage time) makes in 10 tries. And while there were a few good passes and some nice defensive plays early, Gasol's impact wore away as the game wore on. This is something the Lakers can't afford, particularly while Nash is out and Howard isn't quite there. While the style of the new system might suit his skill set, Gasol has some physical adjustments to make.
"Dwight’s used to running. He’s not in tip-top shape like he will be. Pau is used to kind of laboring up the floor," Bryant said after the game. "Kind of coasting a little. In this offense, you’ve really got to put the motor on the first few steps and get up the court."
Pau needs to get his D'Antoni sea legs under him pretty quickly, or 24 will find himself burning too much energy in December to dominate in May and (hopefully) beyond.
Gasol was too passive offensively, continuing to drift high on the floor even when Howard was on the bench. and even in those moments when he got aggressive, couldn't win. He missed a few chippies, and on one second-half dribble-drive, Gasol lost the ball off his leg. He finished with eight points, meaning he and Howard combined for 15. Not good enough.
This, by the way, is where better depth comes in handy.
Turnovers were a killer.
The Lakers had taken much better care of the ball in the first three games since D'Antoni was hired. Wednesday, they fell off the wagon, then got caught up in the spokes. Twenty turnovers helped fuel a Kings offense that has been terrible over the early portion of the 2012-13 season. To their credit, at least, the Lakers busted out the full repertoire of giveaways. There were offensive fouls, careless passes, poor decisions and confusion. Players losing the handle? Sure, that too. Kobe led the way with seven turnovers, not all that surprising given how much ball handling he had to do. Darius Morris wasn't much better, adding five against only one dime.
No surprise he was on the bench down the stretch.
The turnovers put the Lakers back on their heels, and were a major -- though certainly not the only -- reason Sacramento scored 50 points in the paint. For a while the Lakers did good work defensively, or at the least kept points off the board. Sacramento didn't crack the 50-point barrier until the 8:32 mark of the third quarter. But as the game went on, the combination of leg-weariness and carelessness became their undoing and the Lakers totally collapsed.
The Lakers didn't play well, by any stretch. Still, it wouldn't have taken that much more care with the ball to steal a win.
Free throws clearly aren't free.
At the end of the third quarter, the Lakers had taken 22 more free throws than Sacramento, yet had only 13 more makes. Don't blame Howard, either. He didn't get to the stripe until the fourth quarter. Even after Kobe converted one attempt after attempt in the second half, the Lakers still didn't reach 70 percent for the game. In the same way reasonably competent work avoiding turnovers very well could have given the Lakers the game, a better percentage early would almost certainly have changed the game late because the Lakers wouldn't have had to play catch up.
The Lakers aren't going to become the Oklahoma City Thunder when it comes to free throws. Howard is almost single-handedly capable of pushing a team to the bottom of the free-throw percentage ladder. For the Lakers to effectively carry that deficiency in Howard's game, they can't afford to have other guys missing as well.
Wednesday, they left too many points on the table.
Jodie Meeks showed signs of life.
12 points in the third quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers and a nice little baseline jumper. While this doesn't necessarily mean much given his lack of production this year, it was easily Meeks' best showing of the season. More importantly, because D'Antoni kept him on the floor with the starting unit thanks to his hot hand, it gave an idea of how he might be utilized when surrounded by players who draw enough attention to let Meeks set up for open shots on the wing. He has an incredibly quick trigger, and with his feet set has been pretty accurate this year. A designated 3-point shooter is a big player in D'Antoni's offense, and at least on paper, Meeks is that guy for the Lakers.
Interestingly, D'Antoni went with Meeks along with Kobe and Chris Duhon -- not a lineup they've run with this year -- and sat Antawn Jamison in the second half. D'Antoni knows he has to squeeze more productivity out of his reserves, so look for him to try different combinations over the next few games, looking for anything that works and lightens the burden on his starters.