I guess they were due. The Lakers, dominant this season at home -- their only two losses coming against strong Chicago and Indiana squads -- finally laid an egg against an inferior opponent. The Utah Jazz, missing Al Jefferson and Earl Watson, came to Staples Sunday night and beat a sloppy Lakers squad.
Not as bad as the losses in Detroit or Washington, but in some ways more disappointing.
Here are five takeaways...
1. The Lakers were very generous hosts.
Over the first 6:19, the Lakers turned the ball over seven times. Andrew Bynum was whistled for traveling, then lost the ball out of bounds. Metta World Peace then followed suit. A couple minutes later, Pau Gasol gave the ball back to Utah, as did Steve Blake with consecutive bad passes (one clanging off the side of the backboard), followed by a double dribble violation against Bynum. By the end of the first quarter, the Lakers had more turnovers (10) than field goals. This is not a good thing, and accounted for 12 of Utah's 23 points over the first 12 minutes.
On pace for 40 turnovers, the Lakers did manage to slow down the pace of their handouts -- it was almost impossible not to -- but still gave the ball away more liberally than hippies did love back in the day. They dribbled into traffic and threw into crowded passing lanes, they were stripped in the post, they committed offensive fouls. Late in the third quarter, Kobe rose up for a mid-range jumper, then passed to a spot along the right baseline where, in fairness, Matt Barnes had been standing a couple seconds earlier, perhaps the most interesting of his seven giveaways on the night. Bynum was close behind (five), as he struggled with his decision making against aggressive double teaming from Utah. (When he wasn't scoring, at least. See below.)
They finished with 24 on the night, leading to 22 points for the Jazz. Frankly, Utah did a lousy job taking advantage. But it wasn't just the points the Jazz produced, but the number of shots the Lakers cost themselves. Utah finished with 18 more field goal attempts.
2. When the Lakers held on to the ball, the bigs dominated.
Gasol got off to a very aggressive start, hitting a nice hook shot early then filling the lane aggressively in semi-transition, taking a pass from Blake and finishing strong with a dunk. He hit three of his four shots in the quarter. In the second half, Gasol had more good moments, including a strong finish in the paint for an and-one. He moved the ball well, too, masterfully executing a 4/5 pick and roll with Bynum off the right side of the lane, coming over the screen and lobbing the ball perfectly to Bynum. He finished with an 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting, plus 10 rebounds. Bynum was even more dominant on the block, showing off a variety of drop steps and hooks and even more dunking ability as the Lakers opened up a ton of opportunities for flushy finishes. Once again, he was the team's main source of fourth quarter offense, scoring 10 of L.A.'s 30 points. Overall, he finished with an astonishing 33 points on only 14 shots, thanks to incredible efficiency (only two misses) and good work from the line (9-of-12).
Defensively, like the rest of the group the bigs had their breakdowns, but overall it's difficult to pin the team's shortcomings Sunday night on them.
3. Kobe Bryant had an ugly night.
For most of the night, it was a very tight race between Bryant's points and his turnovers. To his credit, it wasn't a matter of kobe forcing tons of bad shots, or allowing his frustration to get the best of him (though there was plenty of frustration, both at his production and the referees). He just missed. Over and over, he missed. He drove the lane and missed, missed on turnaround jumpers at the elbow, missed on catch and shoots, missed from 3. He just missed. Add in the turnovers, and he proved a major drag on L.A.'s offense.
In all, Bryant came up dry on 17 of his 20 attempts.
So while the shots weren't bad, they were still empty, and on a night where Bynum was fairly unstoppable down on the block it's reasonable to ask if a few of his opportunities could have been given to Drew. (That is not meant rhetorically. I'm saying they should have.) I realize he's Kobe Bryant, but on a night where one guy scores nearly every time he touches the ball (and the other seven footer scores nearly every time), those guys needed to have more opportunities.
That all starts with Kobe, who seemed to sense that late in the fourth, but it was a little too late. Overall, it was one of the worst games I've seen from him in my time covering the team. Not necessarily the most irresponsible, but definitely one of the worst.
4. The defense couldn't get the stops.
The screen and roll defense won't please Mike Brown. For that matter, the defense generally won't. Still, Utah shot only 43 percent in the first half and had a very manageable 45 points despite all the favors done for them by the Lakers. In the second half, though, the Lakers were much, much worse, and what will disappoint Brown the most was their defense down the stretch. As much as they didn't deserve to be there, the Lakers had a chance to win if they could come up with some stops. They couldn't, and were burned by penetration, jumpers, and second chance points.
5. Matt Barnes was great.
12 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and a key block with under a minute to play giving the Lakers an opportunity to steal a win. He's a perfect fit for the up-and-down game of Ramon Sessions (who had a nice second half en route to 10 points and six assists, overcoming a bad shooting night with frequent trips to the line), and built on a similarly good showing Friday night against Minnesota.