Lakers 99, Rockets 109: Please Commence Panicking in an Orderly Fashion

rockets02

And to think, this is supposed to be the easy part of the schedule. Indiana, Memphis, Houston... we assumed, not irrationally, that this stretch would be an assembly line of uncomplicated wins for the Lakers before playdates with the league's heavy hitters in late December. If that fantasy wasn't fully dispelled after last night's loss in Memphis, it certainly is now. The gold and purple fell again tonight, this time by a score of 99 to 109 to the injury-ravaged Houston Rockets. It's the fourth straight disheartening loss for the champs. I hope you'll forgive me for being the 37th person to tell you that this is the Lakers' first four-game losing streak in the Pau Gasol era.

So welcome to unfamiliar territory, Laker fans! Last time we sank to these depths, Kwame Brown and Smush Parker were prominently involved in our lives. You know things are serious when I'm invoking those unholiest of names.

Honestly, I don't have it in me to walk through tonight's catastrophe chronologically. I'd rather have a lit cigarette put out on my genitals. Instead, I'll just review the particular failings that contributed to the great big eye-watering cavalcade of FAIL the Lakers staged in Houston. All of these factors have shown up before at one point or another in the losing streak, and most have shown up frequently. Hold your nose and join me after the jump.

1.  Horrendo Team Defense. Sure, this is a good place to start. The Rockets entered tonight's game averaging about 1.07 points per possession. Against the Lakers they scored a gaudy 1.22 points per trip. They scored inside and out, in half-court sets and in transition. Shane Battier, who has scored three or fewer points in seven games this year, lit up the Lakers for 17. Nine different Rockets scored at least eight points. The Lakers right now are exerting less than minimal effort at the defensive end of the floor. They're not getting out on shooters, they're not challenging cutters as they scamper through the lane unimpeded, and they're constantly wandering away from their assignments for half-assed double teams that serve no purpose whatsoever.

2.  The Incredible Disappearing Pau. Gasol once again was a nonfactor tonight. He took only 10 shots (including free-throw possessions) and scored only eight points. And keep in mind, he wasn't battling Yao Ming. Chuck Hayes and Brad Miller were his adversaries, and though both players have their modest charms, they're bros that Pau, when he's right, should be beasting on. In four of the past five games Pau has been outplayed by opposing centers. Whether the problem is fatigue, health (he left the game briefly tonight to have a hamstring tended to) or something else, he and the Lakers need to get it solved.

(Per Mike Trudell, after the game Pau said of his hamstring, "It's a little sore. It bothered me. It didn't get loose at all. I will rest and hopefully I'll be better.")

3.  Another Blown Lead. The Lake Show led the Rockets by 12 in the second period and by seven with about six minutes to play in the fourth. Just like they'd built good leads against the Jazz and Grizzlies. And just as in those games, the Lakers failed to administer a finishing move. The Rockets used a quick run at the end of the first half to make it close again and then outscored the Lakers 25-8 over the final 13 possessions to grab the W.

The following shows points per possession, broken down by quarter, for the Lakers and their opponents during the four-game losing streak:

1st Q

2nd Q

3rd Q

4th Q

Total

Lakers

1.26

0.94

0.98

1.11

1.07

Opponents

0.98

1.21

1.15

1.19

1.13

As you can see, the Lakers are coming out of the gates just fine. They're giving themselves cushions, but then they're letting up on both sides of the ball. We remember the endings of games most vividly, but often the outcome is slipping away in the middle quarters.

But speaking of those endings....

4.  Bad Late-Game Execution. What is it with this team down the stretch of close games? When the clock ticks down under a few minutes they forget how to run their offense. Everybody looks confused. Nobody seems to know what the plan is, if indeed there is one. Ball movement disappears. Player movement disappears. Everything freezes until someone fires up a nervous-looking jumper. In the last four minutes tonight, the Lakers took eight jumpshots 17 feet or further from the basket. Only one of them went in.

5.  Weird Substitutions. The Laker bench came to play tonight. Matt Barnes, Shannon Brown and Steve Blake were all fairly productive. Barnes was especially noice: 14 points and eight boards in 30 minutes. It was his offensive rebound and two made free throws that put the Lakers up seven midway through the fourth. Those were his seventh and eighth points of the quarter.

So why did Phil Jackson remove him from the game 30 seconds later? No idea. I do know that Matt's departure coincided with the start of the Rockets' big run at the end of the game. Correlation doesn't equal causation and all that, but Barnes was the best Laker on the floor in the fourth quarter, and Phil chose an awfully strange time to stick him on the bench.

6.  Bad Three-Point Shooting. The Lakers made only five of 16 three-point attempts tonight, continuing an ugly trend. Through the first 15 games of this season they shot 43% from distance. During the losing streak they've connected on only 30%. This is reminiscent of last year, when the offense was constantly fighting a headwind because nobody could hit an outside shot. Their hot streak to begin the year was anomalous, but so this. It'll turn around. They need it to turn around sometime soon.

The Lakers have now sunk to 13-6, tied with Oklahoma City for fifth best record in the West. The next opponent is Sacramento on Friday night. Surely they'll take care of the Kings at Staples, right?

Right??

 

Poss.

TO%

FTA/
FGA

FT%

3FGA/FGA

2PT%

3PT%

EFG

TS%

OReb Rate

DReb Rate

PPP

L.A

90

12

0.28

87

0.20

48

31

48

54

29

76

1.10

Hou.

89

13

0.27

90

0.28

53

45

57

62

24

71

1.22

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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