After I first watched the game, I was mighty pissed. Being a literature nerd, my first thought was that I was going to formulate an emotionally charged yet logical and rhetoric piece, examining and dissecting exactly what was wrong with the Lakers and discerning a realistic means of resolving it, almost pleading with them to fix themselves.
But, you know what? Fuck it. Rewatching the game transferred to me the true sense of 'meh' brought about by such a candid performance. As far as I'm concerned, I'm like what we all hope the Lakers are in conserving energy for the playoffs. Why? Simply, nothing matters any more. Two games behind Cleveland (plus a tiebreaker), means it is unlikely we regain home court advantage, particularly considering we have a far more difficult remaining schedule. Simultaneously, the odds of us losing seeding and falling behind the likes of Dallas, Denver or Orlando are highly imporbable. As such, it simply doesn't matter any more. The Lakers certainly seem to understand this.
An argument my friend presented was that Los Lakers needed to get some momentum and get in-rhythm before the playoffs start. Why? Not to be arrogant or anything, but LA can take its regular season mentality into the playoffs, and still get out of Round 1 without much of a problem. That's simply how talented these Lakers are, it's near impossible that a defense-less Phoenix, an injury-decimated Portland, a unexperienced Grizzlies or even Oklahoma City defeat them. As such, they can effectively use Round 1 as a warm-up. Even Round 2, while serving as a wake-up call, likely being the Mavericks or Jazz, won't harbour too much difficulty. Fans may get a scare, but in the end the first two rounds are really just a facade of parity, and are likely sufficient to serve as warm-ups for the real competition.
So, what's left to play for in the 20 games and probably over 100 million worth of League Profit to be made out of these last 20-or-so games? Nothing. Absolument rien.
This game had the most lead changes of any this season, at 31, and thus should have been exciting, in theory. In practise? I'd rather have been at school.
Regardless, some observations from tonight's game, after the jump:
- We played great defense in the first half, particularly the first quarter. Something like 38% opposition shooting? I could live with that.
- The third quarter, however, was regression to the mean on steroids. Frankly, it was a bitch, with Miami shooting around 70% for the period.
- QRich started heating up by Artest leaving him to help on Wade, before Kobe was switched onto him and downright disrespected him, playing free safety for the rest of the game. Kobe playing free safety can generally aid us in forcing turnovers, but tonight's game, particularly one Mr. Richardson's box score, perfectly illustrate the drawbacks of this defensive strategy.
- Artest played excellent D on Wade for 90% of the time he covered him, with smothering physical presence, grit, toughness, quick hands and a tenacity to fight through screens. When it came down to crunch time, however, Wade was too flat-out fast for Ron-Ron. This is no knock on Artest, as Wade is called Flash for a reason - when he's like that, no-one can stop him. Although saying this, I do believe switching Kobe onto Wade in OT would have given us more of a chance of slowing him down and stopping him from creating for teammates and himself off of penetration, as Kobe is quicker than Ron and when focused also one of the premier perimeter defenders in the League. But hey, since when did Phil do something as amateur as 'make an in-game defensive adjustment', anyway?
- That lineup with Farmar and Brown out there brought us a lot of momentum. While neither played spectacularly overall, and Fisher and Artest actually had good games, at the time Brown and Farmar were in, we had the momentum. Why did Phil feel the need to mess with that by putting the starters back in? If it's working, don't fuck with it.
- I understand that leaving Haslem open beyond 16 feet was probably part of our game plan, but when he started hitting them like a beast, why not make an adjustment? It's not like it would screw up our defensive rotations to do so, either, it would just require a little more energy from our Power Forwards. Hell, if I can play forward and close out shooters in my domestic B-grade games, professional NBA players can.
- On the same note, I doubt leaving Arroyo wide open was part of the strategy. Fish actually defended Carlos extremely well on drives, but didn't seem like he could be bothered even trying to contest Arroyo's shots.
- We couldn't handle Zone. WHY COULDN'T WE HANDLE ZONE!? High schoolers can handle Zone better than that!
- Towards the end of the game, our D was still getting steals before the offense was set, however if we gave Miami a chance to get their offense running they were almost guaranteed to score - Why not recognise this and run a press?
- Phil Jackson was complaining about the no-call in regulation where Kobe was 'fouled'on a jumper, causing him to airball - Not only is Phil's reasoning sketchy, 'Kobe doesn't miss like that, it was obviously a foul', but there were bad calls going both ways - a potential offensive foul on Odom that was instead a three-point play and a Pau Gasol dribble-off-the-knee without a defender within a foot (seriously, how the hell did he manage that?) being called our way come to mind. Please, it's too late in the season to be making excuses, Phil, no reason Miami should be close enough for the game to be decided by one foul call, anyway.
- Kobe very nearly single-handedly won the game for us with his shot-making, however it could also be argued he essentially single-handedly lost it for us. His seeming refusal to close out on Richardson comes to mind, particularly on one of the last Miami regulation scores, where Richardson drains a three made far too easy due to a late close by Kobe (1. By then QRich had hit something like 6 threes, you'd think Kobe would have learnt to close out. 2. Kobe fouled Richardson on his follow-through, but it wasn't called). Not only was his defensive roaming an issue, but he made some bad offensive decisions, too. When he was taking over, and Miami finally sent a double-team his way, he immediately passed it off to Drew - Not only was this pass too early, as the double hadn't fully commited (it almost seemed a panick-reaction by Kobe), it was a bad pass and at least two feet behind Drew. Also terrible was that three he bricked on one of the last possessions of OT. Fair enough, there was little time left, fair enough L.A. was down, but he did not even think of trying to get a more efficient score before firing away. Now, some may argue he hits those shots often, but there's subtle differences. Generally, his threes are either straight-away after bringing the ball up, thus giving Kobe forward momentum and having his defender backpedalling; after bringing the ball low, pivoting, pump-faking and firing away, thus removing the defender from the equation; or off of a rhythm-dribble. This three wasn't any of those, it was an awkward-looking rushed three over a very good contest by the 7-foot Jermaine O'Neal, early into the shot clock. Bad, bad, shot. Also, the charge. It was far too early in the shot-clock to try that, instead of setting up the offense. And what was Kobe thinking, anyway, putting his head down and bulling into the paint without as much as a thought for what he's going to do? He's not LeBron, he's not gonna get mercy calls for that. Does Kobe not have the body control to step around or shoot over the defender?
- Free throws, free throws, free throws. I'm not going to single out any individual performance, as everyone shot terribly. For one or two individuals to shoot poorly from the free throw line can just be an off-day, or possibly an individual lack of focus, but for such unified putridity, it suggests the Lakers were still feeling the after-affects of a night in South Beach the night before.
- The backcourt is exceptional at forcing turnovers, they should press on occassion during crunch-time. I've touched upon this earlier, but it cannot be emphasized enough; I have read so many articles speaking of how effective and under-utilised a weapon the press is.
- Pau Gasol has been playing downright terrible, I don't know what to say about him. After the Cleveland game, he seemed nervous when playing, but at least he showed emotion. Now he just seems like a sleepwalker. A friend of mine suggested force-feeding him the ball exclusively during a game against a weak frontline, however I believe we did that once already, resulting in Pau shooting 40% with 4 turnovers. I just don't know how to fix it. However, that's why I'm sitting here writing about it while Phil is being paid 12 million dollars a year to figure it out, with 10 pieces of jewellery in his resume.
- One scene from the slapstick made me downright furious. Late third or early-middle fourth, I believe; Wade comes off of a screen, drawing help defense. He sees JO ready to cut baseline, with Pau too far forward and too busy ball-watching to stop him. Dwayne Wade gives Jermaine O'Neal the perfect pass for the dunk. By the time Pau realises what's happening, it's too late to stop the dunk, even by fouling, he realises this and doesn't make a move toward Jermaine, which is fine. What ISN'T, however, is his demeanour in doing so. He stands there, watches JO dunk, half-shrugs, turns around, and walks back up the court; with no discernible display of consternation or any regret in letting such an easy score get past, nor any determination to get it back. No facial expression whatsoever. Not. Good. Enough.
- On a similar, but more positive note, Drew has been doing the exact opposite of late. You can see the passion there, and the effort on both ends of the ball. He also appears more toned and physically fit, though he does not seem to be able to catch the ball as he used to - as evidenced by his five turnovers. Regardless, he plays with more heart than Pau, and to greater effect, and thus deserves minutes over Pau. I'd say we should have looked for Drew more this game, but asides from Pau Gasol and Jordan Farmar no-one shot inefficiently today, so there's not really anywhere to take shots from.
- Speaking of tone and energy, Artest is visibly lighter, more energetic, and looks toned instead of simply bulky. Evidently, the running and diet is working for him, as depicted by his recent defensive streak (even Dwayne Wade was held to a subpar shooting percentage).
- Really, all our starters asides from Pau were okay on the offensive end. Off the bench, Odom was very efficient, but the other bench players would seem mediocre to average looking at the box score. This was not the case, as in Powell's limited minutes there were several instances of him physically battling for rebounds with accomplished and reputed glass-cleaner Udonis Haslem, important as before he was subbed in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum both were giving up quite a few offensive boards. Brown's box score shows him to be efficient in limited activity, and effective on the defensive end with three steals. However, I do not recall him having any significant affect on the game - even his dunks seemed rather blase (and Michael Beasley's putback overshadowed them in the highlights department, anyway). Farmar, however, was statistically terrible, shooting 30%, but watching him I perceived him having a highly positive impact on the flow of the game and Lakers' offense. Jordan was not officially credited with any steals, but I do remember at least one important deflection which was gathered by a teammate (probably Shannon, as I don't believe he had 3 steals independantly).
- 15 assists, 16 turnovers. Need I say more? While the lack of assists doesn't really bother me, as Los Angeles still scored efficiently off of iso's, those turnovers were free points for the Miami Heat, and if we cut down our turnovers to our season norm, we would win. We had 11 steals, a great number, but they had 12. Not satisfactory, at all.
- Carlos Arroyo 6-7, season-high 17 points? Close the bastard out!
- Quentin Richardson 7-11 from three? Jeeebus.
- Arroyo's performance could easily be repeated, as we continously left him open for midrange jumpers. Richardson's, however, is unlikely as to be affective on a regular basis. Regardless, our lack of closeouts would have renedered anyone moderately effective. What frustrates me is that QRich is only a 30% free throw shooter on the season - why not foul him?
Okay, I reckon that's enough for today.
As C.A. said, "The Lakers don't always lose when they play this way, but we fans lose every time."
We can hope and speculate all we want, make guesses and try to ascertain when the Lakers will flip the proverbial switch, but, quite simply, no-one, even the Lakers, can tell you when this shall occur, or even if such a switch exists. All we can do is wait, and see.
The Playoffs couldn't come fast enough.