Lakers Return to the Dead on Easter Sunday


At about 3:41 this afternoon, a magnitude-7.2 earthquake struck Baja California. That's a couple hundred miles from downtown Los Angeles, but 7.2 is easily big enough for the shockwaves to be felt this far north. The floors swayed and rollicked for a good 20 seconds. The structural integrity of the refrigerator box I live in may be permanently compromised.

I'm not saying earthquakes are ever a good thing - seriously, I hope all you Silver Screen and Rollers made it through OK - but if one had to happen, couldn't it have hit right before today's Lakers-Spurs game? Perhaps then the contest would've been postponed, and we could've spent the afternoon hoovering down Cadbury Mini Eggs instead of watching the Lakers befoul this day with yet another wank performance. So much for the improvement shown on Friday night against the Utah Jazz. The Lakers reverted to previous levels of crappitude in falling to the Spurs, 100 to 81.

Damn it, plate tectonics. Where the hell are you when we need you?

The game itself was as nauseating as any temblor. Are the Spurs a team the Lakers should have a problem handling? No, they are not. Especially without Tony Parker on the floor to disembowel Derek Fisher. Historically Pau Gasol has defended Tim Duncan well, and Ron Artest can stay with Manu Ginobili. Lamar Odom against whoever San Antonio runs out in the power-forward slot is a mismatch in the Lakers' favor. And the Spurs don't have any elite, shutdown perimeter defenders to handle Kobe Bryant, right? This is why Laker fans have generally preferred to see San Antonio line up as L.A.'s first-round playoff opponent.

And yet, despite all this, we still get games like today's. When the Laker shooters can't find the basket, no matter how open they might be. When Kobe insists on burning way more possessions than he should, in spite of Pau's scoring punch. When the bench doesn't score a point until the third quarter and shoots 2 for 15 on the night. That's just what the Lakers are right now. That's what they've been this whole season.

The Lakers have injuries, they don't execute their offensive or defensive systems as reliably as a championship team should, they're bad outside shooters, and they have a terrible bench. These problems will not be solved by the time the playoffs start. Maybe Andrew Bynum will come back, maybe he won't. If he does, that's a significant help. But the fundamental weaknesses that afflict the Lakers will plague them throughout the postseason.

Duncan had a terrific game today: 24 points on 74% True Shooting, with 11 rebounds, four assists and one turnover. That's going to happen from time to time. An all-time great who still has gas in the tank, Duncan's going to put big stat lines here and there. Manu (32 points on 60% True Shooting, with five assists and six turnovers) got his as well. You can survive that, so long as you don't let San Antonio's role players efficiently soak up the remaining possessions. Richard Jefferson, Matt Bonner and Roger Mason scored 28 points on 58% True Shooting, and Antonio McDyess chipped in four offensive rebounds. That's how you turn a suboptimal defensive performance that you can kind of, maybe live through into a complete rout. Playing at home, the Lakers allowed 1.16 points per possession (PPP) to an offense that's barely in the NBA's top third and that was operating without its star point guard. Mountainous, colossal, epic, thesaurus-busting FAIL.

The Lakers' offensive performance was just as egregious. Only 0.94 points per possession? Are you GD kidding me? It was another horrendous shooting tonight for Kobe, and unlike against Utah, he didn't make up for his off-target chucking by getting to the free-throw line.

The Artest slump is reaching Core Meltdown stage. Over his last nine games, he's made only 7 of his 34 three-point attempts. In a game like today's, the Lakers needed better from him and more than eight shots from Odom. Lamar should've destroyed Bonner and Dyess but was mysteriously quiet. And I don't know what more there is to say about the play of the bench. Without Odom, it's the worst in the NBA.

At this point I'm going to stop wondering who'll be the Lakers' first-round playoff opponent. There's not a team in the Western Conference playoff field that can't give the Lake Show a difficult series. Days like these, there'll be more of them to come.











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