I'm not normally one to make a big deal about the result of a basketball game, especially a regular season game. But today's performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers has me legitimately concerned about the Lakers this season. As Dex mentioned right after the game, the offensive performance was bad enough that it can no longer be ignored. It's not something that we can write off as "offense just not clicking" or "an off night shooting the ball". When was the last time the Lakers had an "on" night? When was the last time everything clicked?
But, after today's debacle in Staples Center, I had a thought much more concerning to me than whether or not the Lakers can get things figured out on the offensive end. The Lakers are still tied for the best record in the NBA so far this season. Their Strength of Schedule is as good as any other top flight team, so they haven't been just running things up on scrubs. They've had a lot of home games, but it's not like they've struggled on the road. But my concern is this: We are 1/3 of the way through the season, and the Lakers have yet to rack up a signature win.
Think about it. There are currently 6 other NBA teams with 20 wins or more. The Lakers have played against those 6 teams a total of 4 times. They are 1-3 in those games, the lone win coming against the Hawks, with an average point differential of just under -12. In other words, in games against top flight competition, the Lakers aren't just losing regularly, they are getting blown out of the water. Are the Lakers this year's version of last year's Cavs? A very good team, which is doing a great job of taking care of its business against lesser teams, but one that is ultimately doomed to fail when it's time to match up with the big boys?
Last year, it seemed more likely that the Lakers would lose a game to Sacramento than to Cleveland, more likely to get beat by Charlotte than Boston. Last year's team failed to put in the effort on nights when the opponent didn't light up the marquee. This year, they've yet to beat somebody important. I explained away the Dallas game due to an early season slip. I explained away the Denver game due to the travel considerations. There are no more excuses. As stupid as it sounds coming out of the camp of the defending champions, the Lakers need to beat somebody good, to prove to everybody that they are still capable of it.
Too many times this season, the Lakers have won a tough game with good defense. But against the top teams, good defense alone isn't enough to get it done. And against a good team today, the Lakers offense looked so pathetic it was painful. Maybe it was just another bad game. Maybe when the chips are down, this team will still be able to perform, just like it did last year. But I know what I saw, and I saw the Lakers get dominated today.
Pau and Bynum both looked like bullies who are used to picking on people much smaller than them, and then get scared when they finally have to deal with somebody their own size. I don't even remember a single decent cut by anybody on the offense. And the bench players seemed to be having a contest to see who could play the least amout\nt of time before doing something that made PJ want to bench them for the rest of the game. Seriously, our bench players might as well have been wearing Cleveland jerseys today, because they provided more assistance to the Cavs than to the Lakers. Farmar and Brown both played like they had a fever, and the only cure was more bad jumpshots. Lamar Odom got tossed from a game for the 2nd time in two weeks. And Sasha, besides being completely incapable of hitting wide open jump shots, committed the dumbest defensive mistake I may have ever seen. It was so dumb that I actually wrote it down on paper with a timestamp and everything. At the 1:30 mark of the 3rd quarter, Sasha managed to "hound" LeBron James into giving up the ball, then he proceeded to double team the player who received the ball, the player standing 25 feet from the basket. That player? The wonderful, amazingly talented offensive threat, the great Anderson Varejao. 4 passes and an entire team of scrambling Lakers later, the Cavs predictably ended up with an easy dunk. It was the perfect play to sum up a game filled with horrible, horrible decisions on both ends of the court.
Maybe I'm over-reacting. The games against good competition come from a small and slightly skewed sample size. The Lakers still have plenty of time to right the ship. All I know is that the team that won the championship last season was a team that didn't end up with the best record, but was clearly better than all the other top teams when they played head to head. If the champion this year follows that patten, from what we have seen so far this season, it will not be the Los Angeles Lakers.
Some other game notes and musings
- Was today opposite day? Kobe vs. LeBron, and it's Kobe who had better stats and flirted with a triple double, and LeBron played alright while his supporting cast carried him to victory?
- Today was the game where all the Lakers issues came to a head in one game. The poor outside shooting, the poor offensive execution, the inability to contain a quick scoring point guard, and the terrible bench play were all on full display. Everything the Lakers have struggled with in this season came back to bite them in the ass at the same time. That's the recipe for a big loss.
- Can we get rid of all the "Shannon Brown does things the right way" comments at this point? Everytime someone compares Brown to Farmar, one of the things they mention is that Brown is so much more humble, that he plays with the right attitude. Sure, I've never seen Brown get visibly frustrated or mad at Phil Jackson, and I'm not trying to hold up Farmar as a paragon of postive attitude. But your attitude is reflected in how you play, and Brown plays as selfishly off the bench as anybody. He plays for the highlight to such an extent that it often costs the team points. He takes as many ill-advised early shot clock contested jumpers as anybody.
- I didn't actually see the part where the fans started throwing shit on the court. When Lamar picked up the 2nd T, that was when I reached my shit quota and stopped watching. On the one hand, it was actually nice to see that Lakers fans care enough to actually do that kind of thing. And I can't really blame the sentiment because, while it had nothing to do with the final outcome of the game, the 2nd half was filled with some pretty horrible one sided officiating. And the entire game was filled with suckitude from the home team. But wow, way to stay classy, Los Angeles. I guess not every person who has tickets in the lower bowl is a celebrity or rich debutante. Plenty of low class hooligans seem to get those seats as well.
- The single highlight of the entire game for Lakers fans, Phil Jackson's 3rd quarter interview. "I want to wish all the fans a Merry Christmas and apologize for making them watch this game". Thanks, PJ.