In a hard fought game from the Los Angeles Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs still managed to squeak out a win. Kobe Bryant's 28 points and 8 assists were beautiful, but without a win the stats are all but hollow.
The Bernie Bickerstaff era has likely come to an end, naturally, on a game that was decided by a Pau Gasol three point attempt with the just over 9 seconds left in the game. Somewhere, Andrew Bynum raises his glass and picks his afro out to the effort from his former front court mate. After the San Antonio Spurs clawed back into the game, and into the lead with a Danny Green three over the outstretched arm of a late rotating Kobe Bryant, the Lakers failed to execute with the game on the line and fall to the Spurs for their fifth loss on the year. Final score, Spurs 84 Lakers 82.
On to the next one, the two game winning streak has been snapped like the twig it always was.
Darius Morris, the third string point guard for the Los Angeles, had the first start of his career and did a great job pestering Tony Parker. Clearly, Morris is still far from being ready for the "big time", but as he continues to find minutes with Steve Nash being sidelined the game of basketball seems to be slowing down for him. Yes, he still gives Metta World Peace a run for his money in the "this is the worst fast-break I've ever seen" category, but there are positives to take from his game. Regardless, the work both he and Dwight Howard did on Tony Parker (18 points on 8-18 with 7 assists) was impressive but not enough as Parker turned it on down the stretch and took advantage of being matched up against MWP in the final minutes of the game. Clearly Bickerstaff strayed away from Morris who is still an offensive liability and a player who has yet to see serious playing time, but with the way Tony Parker hurt the Lakers in the final quarter, perhaps it was the wrong call.
No matter how well the Lakers seemed to have play and kept themselves in the game, the turnover game once again proved to be a twisting knife in the back. Shredding the meat of what was so close to being a great win for a team in a coaching transition. The Lakers were lucky to be in this game with the usual 17 turnovers while the Spurs did a great job protecting their possessions, turning only 8 possessions over. Cutting the turnovers down even 5-6 could have made a huge difference in a game this tight. It's incredibly difficult for the Lakers to win when they aren't even giving themselves a chance at shooting the ball. This is all compounded, of course, with the horrible transition defense they exhibit. Turnovers have killed this team from the first preseason game and continue to be the biggest issue. Forget X's and O's, just hold on to the ball, fellas.
Kobe Bryant continued his incineration tour and used his full bag of tricks on the Spurs. Isolations, post-ups, screens, cuts, and simply driving to the cup Kobe had it going. The Spurs simply had no answer to slowing Kobe down. It wasn't just scoring for Kobe though, he also tacked on 8 assists to his night with an array of slick bounce passes and finds for his team. This has been a great stretch of basketball for Kobe to start the season; going forward it's a matter of trying to maintain the level of play while also bringing in a new coach and system with Mike D'Antoni. 12-19 shooting for for 28 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists... but a losing effort for the Black Mamba who is surely ready for the "offensive genius" Mike D'Antoni to come in and help right the rest of the ship.
Another positive to take from this game, though, is the activity level of Dwight Howard on the defensive side of the ball. Even with limited touches (5-9 from the field for 13 points) Howard seemed to draw his energy in doing everything in his power to disrupt the Spurs' pick and roll game. Also, in 40 minutes of play, Howard pulled in 15 rebounds. As he continues to progress his health towards that magical 100% mark there are still glimpses of the brilliance that is to come.
Still, when you hold the San Antonio Spurs to 38% shooting, grab 10 more rebounds, and Manu Ginobli only scores 3 points you need to finish the fight. The Lakers did just about everything right (aside from the turnovers) and still couldn't walk out with the win. What CAN be said about the Los Angeles Lakers though that was never even a thought through the rest of the season is that the Lakers are looking better. Not amazing. Not like the monster team everyone expected. But they are improving as a team. This was a win that got away to a San Antonio Spurs team that is the definition of consistency and stability while the Lakers have been anything but over the last few weeks. Down two point guards, Devin Ebanks, and a head coach. Change is coming though with Mike D'Antoni touching down in Los Angeles tomorrow.
The question now is just how quickly he will take to the sideline, and when his "basketball soulmate" Steve Nash will be ready to deploy once again. Tough loss, but losing by 2 to the Spurs with the way the Lakers have been playing? Not sure many would have taken Los Angeles with that spread a week ago. Next up, fittingly, the Phoenix Suns for some Friday night basketball.