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Lakers 96, Grizzlies 98: Mike Conley Is Obviously Underpaid


In moments of frustration, it helps to step back and take stock of what we know. So let's start here: the Lakers tonight lost on the road to the Memphis Grizzlies, 96 to 98. It's their third consecutive loss and only the second time they've dropped three straight during the Pau Gasol era. Since starting the season 8-0 they've played 0.500 ball over their last 10 games. At 13-5, they've fallen to fourth place in the West despite having faced a not particularly taxing slate of opponents. The Lakers aren't anywhere close to a Miami Heat-like crisis situation, but I think we can all admit this isn't where we thought they'd be sitting at the end of November.

Tonight's setback unfolded in a similar fashion to Sunday's loss to Indiana. The Lakers looked decent in the first quarter, only to slump in the middle periods as their opponent built up a double-digit lead. The offense again went through long, excruciating stretches of stagnant play. An opposing point guard again was allowed to control the game. Again the Lakers made a late charge that stalled out when offensive execution failed in crunch time. And again their star seven-foot center watched it all in street clothes.

I didn't like this movie the first time I saw it. On second viewing I hate it even more.

The Grizzlies' point total of 98 doesn't look like much out of context. That's just pace masking deplorable defense on the Lakers' part. The Grizzlies' 88 possessions were the fewest of any Laker opponent this year, and their 1.11 points per trip is well above the season average for the Laker D. The problems tonight were mainly on the perimeter. Derek Fisher was egregiously bad against Mike Conley, who burned him off the dribble over and over. When Conley didn't have the ball, Fish frequently wandered away from him for no apparent reason, leaving him wideass open to make 4-of-5 three pointers. Conley, who's no one's idea of an All-Star point guard, finished with 28 points on only 16 shots (including free-throw possessions). I'm sure I don't need to tell you that 28 is far and away Conley's season high.

Kobe Bryant's defense wasn't much better. He looked utterly indifferent to competing at the end of the court. On numerous occasions he simply refused to guard Xavier Henry. Literally, all the X Man (no idea if anyone really calls him that) had to do was jog around a light screen or even just walk to a different part of the court, and Kobe wouldn't follow him. Henry came into this game averaging five points a night and finished with 12.

It gets worse. O.J. Mayo chipped in 11 off the bench, and Sam Young - Sam Young! - scored seven points in just nine minutes of play. Combined, Memphis guards scored 61 points on 43 shots, good for a 71% True Shooting mark. And again, when you're making a list of the NBA's most potent backcourts, it's not like the Grizzlies show up high on the list. This was one of the worst exhibitions of perimeter defense I've seen in many years.

At times the Laker offense was even harder to watch. The attack looked strong in the first quarter, when guys were taking care of the rock, moving it around quickly and getting to the free-throw line. In the second, though, everything fell apart. The Lakers had 24 possessions that quarter and turned it over eight times. Five different Lakers committed a turnover in the second period alone. That seemed to throw the system out of whack, and it began a long stretch that featured a whole damn lot of Kobe dribbling the air out of the ball and everyone else staring passively. Where was the spacing? Where was the ball movement? Why make the offense so one-dimensional and simple to defend?

Things continued much in this vein throughout the third, when the Grizzlies built up an 11-point lead. In retrospect, a key sequence occurred at the beginning of the fourth. A Matt Barnes layup had cut the lead to five at the end of the third quarter. Coming out of the break, though, Grievis Vasquez (!!) was left open for a three, Ron Artest committed a turnover, Mayo hit another three, Rudy Gay blocked Artest's shot, and then Young drew a shooting foul and converted both free throws. That established a 13-point lead for the Grizzlies, which would prove too deep a hole to overcome.

In the last four minutes the Lakers scraped together a 16-9 run and had a chance to tie or win it on the final possession. With 11 seconds left Pau stole a Conley pass and shot a quick outlet to Kobe, who dribbled across halfcourt along the right sideline. With Mayo guarding him, he swerved left toward the paint. Gay stepped in to cut off the drive, at which point Kobe elevated for an apparent shot. Mayo got a hand in his face, however, so in midair Kobe kicked it out to Ron on the left side, beyond the arc, with only three seconds left. Gay flashed out on him - this was a really nice defensive possession for Gay, by the way - forcing Ron to pump fake, take a step sideways and jack up something off-balance. Gay blocked it. Game over.

You'll notice that the Lakers, as on Sunday, failed to call a timeout to set up a final offensive set. There was no fast break to be interrupted: when Kobe was working his way downcourt, both Mayo and Gay were back on D. Why no timeout, which anyone on the court could've called? Beats moi.

I don't, in any case, blame Ron for that last play. He was where he was supposed to be, but he was given the rock with very little time to make a move. He had a look but Gay played some great defense on him. Having watched the replay several times now, I do think that if Kobe had gone up with the shot on this drive, there's a good chance he would've drawn a shooting foul on Mayo. O.J. was chopping down with his arm. It's the type of hacky motion that often gets whistled whether it's a foul or not.

A few positives to note: first, the defensive rebounding was uncharacteristically good. The Grizzlies collected only 13% of their own misses, far below the 30% or so Laker opponents have been averaging this year. Good work on the defensive glass by Pau and Lamar Odom. Also, the free-throw shooting remains excellent. For the eighth straight game the Lakers have made over 80% from the stripe.

C.A. will have more about all this tomorrow. In the meantime, let's hear your analyses in the postgame thread. The Lakers will endeavor not to drop a fourth straight when they hit up the Houston Rockets Wednesday night.











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Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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