LOS ANGELES -- Back in 1891, as he contemplated what to do with those peach baskets lying around the Springfield YMCA, had James Naismith been afforded a glimpse into the future at the game basketball would become and seen Tuesday's game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers, he might have left those baskets on the floor and invented dodgeball instead.
For about 46 minutes, at least, it was among the least enjoyable games I've ever watched, and into our eighth season covering the team, I've seen a few car wrecks. And really, only its inherent badness -- so many missed opportunities for both teams down the stretch -- made the end compelling.
Here are five takeaways on a night the Lakers again fall below .500:
Anger and flu produce interesting results with Kobe Bryant.
He started out on fire, hitting five of his first six shots, starting with a 3-pointer and including buckets at the rim and from midrange. From there, as the mud on the court grew thicker and the Lakers' offense bogged down, Bryant started taking more and more on himself. He missed seven of his eight second-quarter shots, and while he was 3-for-6 in the third, he also turned the ball over five times. Still, on a night when points were painfully hard to come by, Bryant repeatedly managed to get himself to the stripe. (With 11 points, Kobe outscored all but one of his teammates from the free throw line alone.) Moreover, he made big fourth-quarter baskets, including a slick reverse layup with 2:27 remaining that pulled L.A. to within two points and fouled Roy Hibbert out of the game, and (oh by the way) a tying 3-pointer from the right wing with 24.5 seconds to play. He forced shots, forced passes and generally played angry. After the hot start, he went 6-for-22 the rest of the way. Combined with 10 turnovers, it amounted to a ton of empty trips for the Lakers.
He also outscored the rest of his team 40-37, playing with a particularly hacky strain of flu.
This is the sort of game that gives both Kobe-loving and Kobe-hating fans something to chew on. Supporters point to the big buckets late, the poor effort from teammates and the will he showed playing through illness. Those who think he too easily slides into hero ball will point to the missed shots and sloppy turnovers, and say the result would have been different had he stuck to the less-is-more script serving him so well to this point in the season. Particularly since he was sick.
He certainly wasn't the reason the Lakers lost, and given how good Bryant has been this season and the horrendous nature of Tuesday's game, drawing meta-lessons is a mistake. But that's not how the Bryant debate works.
Those clamoring for a trade of Pau Gasol shouldn't root for games like tonight.
I get it. You want him gone. You're tired of the inconsistency, the too-frequent passive play. You don't think it can work with him playing power forward next to Dwight Howard, and so on. Personally, I'll wait to see what happens when the offense is fully integrated and Steve Nash is back, but I get your thought process. (Plus, I remain skeptical that the Lakers can get a deal improving them overall, but I digress.) However, for you to get your way and keep the Lakers competitive, games such as Tuesday's don't do any good. Not when opposing general managers look at a box score and see Gasol sitting at 2-of-9 through three quarters, having been blocked a whopping five times. On a night when the sheer quantity of ugly performances should have camouflaged him, Gasol still stuck out like a guy in a bright orange hunting vest.
He made a couple of nice defensive plays in the fourth quarter, hitting four free throws, and delivered a great pass to Howard with two minutes remaining that led to a tying dunk. But overall Gasol didn't build on the encouraging performance from Saturday in Dallas.
Whether you want Gasol to stay or go, you want him playing better than he did Tuesday if for no other reason than to improve his trade value. For three quarters, at least, he was the Sacramento/Memphis Gasol. That's three times in four games, and something the Lakers simply can't afford.
Bad things: Turnovers. And free throws. And turnovers. And 3-point shooting.
Technically speaking, Bryant's 10 turnovers gave him a triple-double. As a team, the Lakers had 21. Not that Indiana exactly lit them up in response, but in a two-point loss, that's a lot of possessions to give away. And speaking of charitable contributions, the Lakers missed 20 free throws, nine by Howard. But Metta World Peace, Darius Morris and Antawn Jamison were a combined 3-for-12. Then there was the perimeter shooting. Bryant helped what might have been a more inefficient night by hitting five of his 11 attempts from downtown. Take Kobe away, and the rest of the team was 1-for-17. Pull three random fans from the 300 level and let them shoot 17 times, and the percentage can't be much worse. Mike D'Antoni's offense operates on spacing and needs good outside shooting. On Tuesday night, the coach didn't get it from his players.
So the Lakers gave away 21 scoring opportunities with turnovers, left 20 points on the table at the line and missed 22 3-pointers as a team.
Look at it that way, and it's kind of a miracle they lost by only two.
The bench renaissance about which I so eloquently wrote this afternoon didn't last.
Probably should have just gone to see "Skyfall" instead of clocking in to work. Jamison, Morris, Chris Duhon and Jodie Meeks combined for six points on 2-of-15 shooting. In a game this ugly, it's not surprising to see the reserves dragged down, but after a couple of nice steps forward, this was one step back.
They did defend.
The Pacers have been a very bad offensive team this season without Danny Granger, but at the same time, the Lakers held them to 79 points and 36.7 percent shooting. That's good stuff no matter the opponent.