O, these Lakers.
How can one describe this season? It would be very, very, difficult. Disappointing? Hardly. The Lakers have won their fair share of games, and in a league where the competition has been stiff, very stiff, the stiffest in years, the Lakers have fared decently well. They're one game behind the Heat, the class of the East, 2nd in the West, and coming off three consecutive trips to the finals. Spoiled Laker fans are spoiled. We've hovered around .500 against the leagues best teams, which is nothing to be ashamed about, but have dropped some pretty easy games against low quality opponents during the lulls in the seasons schedule. All in all, not a bad year. Then why are we so damn frustrated as a Laker community (players included: Ron, Fisher and Kobe looked pissed beyond belief last night)? Five game losing streaks tend to do that to you, I guess.
- Want to know how a losing streak starts with a Laker team like this? Not giving a damn. The Lakers were ready for the season to be over, and had stopped trying to begin their three game slide against some of the leagues more mediocre teams. Kobe saying "We're just B.S.'ing out there" is signal enough that these old guys are tired of playing non playoff games. (credit http://lakers.ocregister.com/2011/04/05/kobe-were-b-s-ing-the-last-two-games/52045/)
- Speaking of not giving a damn... I think I might understand. Want to know what my 2011 has consisted of? Leaving work, going to the gym, lifting weights, working on basketball, cycling, then playing basketball until I go home and then watch basketball on NBA League pass. That routine changes on game days, where I go to the gym after work and do less weights, and do a longer shootaround to prepare for the game, play in the game, then go home to watch NBA league pass (insert obligatory married man routines wherever you feel necessary). Everyone knows me in the basketball gym, and I don't think I've watched anything besides NBATV and League Pass on my home television, at all, in the last few months. Unless my wife is watching her stuff, or a DVD is in the player, my fingers only know DirectTV channel 216 and the League Pass channels (they vary). Why am I telling you this? Its starting to wear on me. Jevon O, commenter on SSR, normal working guy who doesn't play and see even 2/3 the amount of basketball the Lakers endure, is tiring of his schedule after only 3 or 4 months. My eating habits are slacking up, its feeling like a chore to watch these late night Laker games, Memphis basketball is escaping me altogether, and Derrick Rose's layups just aren't enamoring me as much as they were early on in the season. I say all this to say, I understand Los Lakers. Its a long season. We all get tired, and we all find ourselves in a rut. So lets just make a pact; I'll stop drinking sodas and sneaking off to get chicken tenders one day a week, and you guys can kindly wake the fuck up and win in the playoffs. Not try, not "work hard and execute," not make excuses and come up short... win. Kobe said what everyone knows, it's always about the W, and nothing else.
- Yea, they've didn't give a damn on those first 3 losses, but these last 2 losses were legitimate, and can be expected/excused. Let's look at the hoopdata for the Portland game: http://www.hoopdata.com/boxscore.aspx?id=310408022
As expected, the Lakers weren't given much love by the ol' zebra's and the Rose Garden proved hostile to the Purple and Gold.
Free Throws: LAL 14, Portland 20
Shots Around Basket: LAL 36, POR 33
FG% Around Basket: LAL 47.2% POR 66%
Yes, those stats tell you a lot about the game. The smaller team, the Blazers, somehow shot less times near the rim, yet managed to be fouled more often, and when they weren't fouled were more successful at converting baskets near the rim against a taller, more skilled team (this is not a slight against the Blazers; I doubt you will find a Blazer fan that will tell you that their team is statistically better at scoring at the rim. Maybe Aldridges 27 alley oops helped, but sadly, Pau Gasol's pride was not available to comment on the matter). The Lakers could have overcome such odds, but at this juncture of the season, they would've needed a hot hand behind the 3pt arc (>44%) or some stellar defense (defense that was simply Not Allowed as Gerald Wallace received several bail out calls down the stretch) which were both absent. Yea, maybe it seems like the Lakers shot themselves in the foot, but being taken out of your offense with rough play and little love from the stripes can really get to you when you don't want to be there in the first place.
- Time for some Oklahoma City hoopla. You guys aren't gonna want to hear this again, I know it get's old, but I gotta point it out. Oklahoma City plays good ball, plays good defense, has an excellent star player, a great Robin and two or three good pieces of support. What they are not, is a team that wins despite the whistle. Oklahoma City thrives on that shrill sound that declares an infraction. I was waiting until the Hoopdata was ready before I gave some cold, hard, opinions, but they must be drunk from an all nighter because it's still not up. Basketball Reference'll do. Lets get to the meat and potatoes.
Free Throws per Field Goal Attempt: LAL .28 OKC .44 (That means that OKC took a free throw almost every other time they took a shot while LA took them once every four shots. Not cool beans, not cool beans, at all)
Free Throws Total: LAL 28 OKC 35
Shots in the paint or closer than 9 ft: LAL 39 OKC 22 (If I had made the distance closer the discrepancy would've been greater)
This tells the same story as the games in which OKC won last year. In order for the Oklahoma City Thunder to win games against the Los Angeles Lakers, they are going to need the absolute benefit of the whistle. This is no longer a theory in my eyes. Last year I wrote an article with the same questions, without scolding the Thunder players, and without calling anything a conspiracy. I maintain the same stance. I like these Thunder, and I love Kevin Durant. The referees are simply missing calls and/or the Thunder are faster at slapping and grabbing and bumping because they are younger. Case in point, they are getting away with a lot of risky business whenever they beat us. The reason why I look at shots in the paint? If you are most likely going to foul a player, it is going to happen in the paint. If the Lakers can take almost double the shots of the Thunder in the paint and still take less free throws by a healthy margin then I am safe with saying that something is amiss. Either the Thunder are getting away with a little extra in the paint or the Lakers front line decides to deploy Juwan Howard, Erick Dampier, Theo Ratliff and Samardo Samuels on random nights against Oklahoma City. Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, and Pau Gasol convert shots at the rim at a much higher clip than these outlier games (which happen consistently, and consistently end with OKC winning. The outlier is more when LA can pull out a W despite these circumstances) would have you believe. Make no mistake, this is a big statement, and I am going to have sit on it and believe it because I see it in In Game action and I see it represented by the stats. Again, this is no conspiracy.
Shannon Brown and Matty Ice didn't help us last night, but I appreciate that they tried to work through their issues. Shannon was pulled for Luke Walton and Phil gave him quite the lashing for letting Harden go HAM on him, yet when he returned and the crowd murmured because of his over dribbling, he flashed to the basket for a lay up. Barnes' effort was there, too, and the output will soon follow.
Kudos to OKC on capitalizing on their opportunities; their FT% was excellent, and Ibaka continues to impress me. I love Westbrook's aggressiveness and Durant's silky smooth shot, but I'll give no nod to Perkins at all as he was a complete non-entity in this match-up (well, apparently, he stifled Gasol and limited him to a paltry 26 points, and banged Andrew Bynum on the boards as Perk hammered down 5 monstrous rebounds to Bynums crappy 13). Perk, quite a monster you were with those 2 points and 2 turnovers, I see why they write Yahoo articles on you now. Good choke on Kobe, how dare he wrap his head and throat in your arms. He totally deserved that tech. Way to push Andrew so much on potential rebounding plays that when he retaliates they T him up immediately and pat you on the back for your hustle.
Kobe Bryant draws 15th technical foul of season against Kendrick Perkins -- Lakers vs. Thunder (via nbavideosnow)
(stats from OKC LAL game referenced from http://espn.go.com/nba/shotchart?gameId=310410013 and http://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/201104100LAL.html)
- The Lakers are now neither out of the hunt or in prime position to get their three peat. They're 6th in the league in Defensive Efficiency, a fine mark for a team that is engaged about 60% of the time. Their Free Throw Rate, though, is very suspiciously at #16 in the league, and that is nothing to be saddened about, because as the playoffs arrive the zebras are usually more forthcoming with the whistle. Want to know who ranks number 1? Denver. You know, that team who'll never win but needs as much whistles as it can to stay in the game and keep butts in the seats at that paltry arena in Denver. Be angry about it? Hardly. Let the NBA do its business and give Utah, Denver, Portland, and OKC the calls it needs at home so we can keep getting the calls when it matter in the playoffs and business can continue as usual. Why aren't we in prime position, though? Because, lately, we're needing these calls to win. Those '50/50' calls that could go either way? Those calls where there is contact, but in games vs the Warriors we wouldn't care if they missed them? We need them lately. Hell, look at Fish's face when he's slapped on his jumper, or Kobe's when he's pushed out of bounds on a fading 16 footer vs Chandler. They're hurting us, because we've got little left in the tank at the end of this season. We're tired. Good riddance, regular season, the rest is sorely needed.
- Most importantly, there's been one game all season that let me know the Lakers are still favorites to get to the finals and have a chance at three peating. Remember that evening in Boston, when our team was without any momentum and the Celtics strolled into their arena with Ray Allen on a throne, receiving praise from announcers and whatever Reggie Miller is? He hit his three, broke the record, virgins were sacrificed and the Celtics went into halftime with the lead and the hearts of every Laker hater fawning over them. Yea.... that game. Well, the Lakers won it. And they didn't need the stripes, or great 3pt percentage or a flukey performance or high field goal percentage to do it. They simply buckled down and beat their most hated opponent a few weeks after that same opponent man handled them. Yea. The kids are all right
- Remember when everyone wanted "Matty Ice" starting and Ron relegated to the bench or Charlotte? Time to change screen names and act like you never said such blasphemy, because poor Barnes is looking rough out there. Barnes and Brown's fouls in a half court defensive set are inexcusable, and they foul much more often than they are called on, and Laker nation is watching. Barnes' offense isn't as bad, but his 3pt shooting is about as good as his defense has been lately. Biting on passes, going for the home run block, swiping at the ball and being out of position are Barnes and Brown's calling cards as of late, and damn I if I don't believe Phil will have that checked come playoff time.
Less scuffles, more consistency.
- Toughen up Pau. You've been shooting excellent. Please rebound more. By the way, love your dunk on Ibaka and Perk last night. Duly noted big fella.
You Got Dunked On: Pau Gasol Dunks On Serge Ibaka (via antone2382)
- Kobe. You know more about basketball than I know about cheap liquor. Please put that knowledge into effect and be a little more clutch in the post-season. You're great, but we need you. If you're getting fouled, please sell it better. If you're gonna shoot, please make it. I'll leave the rest of the details to you. Now, if you need a dirty martini mix that serves 20, find me.
- Bynum. Hey big fella, I love the way you're playing. Keep playing hard, I think it's cute how they give you the calls early on in the game and then begin to let the guys mug you as the night continues on. Play strong, they'll start getting it right.
Bynum is not happy with the officiating.
- This is going to be the best playoffs the NBA has had in over 20 years... maybe ever. There's around 7-9 Legit contenders, and I'm not exaggerating. The East is going to give you some of the closest, most hotly contested games we've ever had; I'm salivating just thinking about it.
- All said; Miami and LA in the finals. It's gonna be nasty, follks. Fast and pray... fast and pray. We're gonna need it.