LOS ANGELES -- On the plus side, the Los Angeles Lakers put the screws to the Utah Jazz down the stretch of the fourth quarter, transforming what appeared to be a deflating blowout home loss in the making into merely a deflating home loss.
That's also about as good as a loss gets against a Jazz squad heretofore with just three road wins to their name and competing without key reserve Derrick Favors.
With a lackluster effort for about three quarters and change, the Lakers frittered away a very real opportunity to raise themselves back to .500 and build momentum off a respectable road loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. As the final seconds ticked down Sunday, the purple and gold were showered with boos from the Staples Center faithful. And I can't say I blame those fans.
Here are three takeaways from the loss:
Hill was the best Lakers player on the floor
The first time reserve forward Jordan Hill touched the ball, he drove across the lane and drained a running hook. The immediately fruitful possession set the tone for an outstanding effort by Hill. The ultimate garbage man, Hill continually put himself in the right place at the right time, making the most of the luck he created. Six offensive rebounds were snagged (nine in all), either put back for his own points or passed off to create a new possession for someone else to convert. A quartet of shots was swatted, and he altered a couple of other attempts.
But there was more to Hill's excellence beyond the prototypical "energy" plays. He drained a pair of outside jumpers and those confident launches should only help sell his coach on his potential fit in this system. Nice vision was also displayed upon collecting a miss from Kobe Bryant, then spotting No. 24 in the corner. The ball quickly moved, and Bryant drilled the triple.
Yes, there were disappointing moments: Hill, who picked up five fouls, wasn't entirely effective on the defensive end. (And with this distinction, he had plenty of company.) But at least the effort never waned, which couldn't be said about everyone wearing a purple and gold uni.
It remains to be seen whether Hill will be in the rotation once Pau Gasol's knees heal up. Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni fingered Hill as the odd man out upon getting hired, and only El Spaniard's injury prompted more minutes for the Wildcat. But game in and game out, Hill has made good on the opportunity, and his coach clearly needs to find a way to keep him on the court.
This team has a lot of issues defensively
Obviously, there are kinks to work out on both sides of the ball, but to some degree -- until Gasol and especially Steve Nash return -- there's a ceiling to just how well D'Antoni's offense will run. Until then, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for practices to be largely devoted to defensive drills, strategy or just sessions spent watching old footage of the Bad Boy Pistons.
In spurts, the Lakers manage to cobble together passable lockdown, and to some degree I think their intensity is dictated by the quality of opponent. For example, there was a first-half stand during which everyone rotated on a string while Randy Foye weaved around the right side of the court to the baseline, and when the Jazz point guard was left without options he turned the ball over. The gaffe was converted into a transition 3-pointer by Metta World Peace (who shot the ball well, in general). And the closing minutes of the fourth quarter were promisingly productive.
But over the course of four quarters, these guys can't be counted on to get consistent stops, much less crucial ones.
In the meantime, Dwight Howard is growing visibly and increasingly frustrated by being regularly left out to dry while nobody picks up his man after he provides help. And Kobe, who preaches defense as much as any Laker in recent memory, has increasingly allowed no-calls to affect his defensive awareness and effort. During the third quarter, after not receiving what he deemed a due whistle, Bryant literally didn't even cross half court to help his teammates still working to prevent a bucket. This is a terrible habit of Kobe's, if not a particularly new one. But on a team with this many issues, it must cease.
Jamison had among his worst games as a Laker
Remember when Antawn Jamison made headlines and hay by playing fourth-quarter minutes typically reserved for Gasol? Well, Sunday night was the bizarro-version of those triumphant games. From the opening tip onward, Jamison looked out of sorts and lacked a discernible pulse on either side of the ball. He played barely more than six minutes in the first quarter, then less than four minutes in the second half. In that time, little was accomplished by Jamison, and he began the second half seated next to Gasol, who I'd like to believe told him to put on his pantalones de macho. Jamison eventually checked back in late into the third quarter, and kicked things off by getting blocked at the rim. He did produce a nice feed over the top to set up Howard at the rim and collected an offensive rebound that eventually resulted in a Laker bucket. But Jamison's run was ultimately miserable, providing a reminder to himself and teammates that D'Antoni will bench pretty much anybody.