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The Road Trip Went Really Well

Isn't this getting interesting. The Los Angeles Lakers have evidently decided to inject some drama into the regular season not by making a charge at the Cleveland Cavaliers for the NBA's best record, but by letting teams lurking behind them creep up in the standings. With their latest flop, a 94 to 96 loss to the Orlando Magic this afternoon, the Lakers are only two games ahead of Orlando and three ahead of the surging Dallas Mavericks. Hey, so long as every single issue gets ironed out in time to win a 2-7 series over the Thunder, it's all good, right?

A three-game East Coast road trip is now in the books as a three-game losing streak. As you'll hear or read 20 times between now and whenever the Lakers feel like winning another game, it's the first three-game skid of the Pau Gasol era. That's a mildly interesting footnote. The real story here is that the Lakers are now a pretty ordinary 17-13 on the road. Last year their road record was 29-12. For those whose eyes glaze over numbers, here's another way to put it: the Lakers have already lost more road games than they did all of last season. Who needs home-court advantage?

Today in Orlando, the Laker offense wasn't up to the job. The defense wasn't sensational. There were a lot of problems containing Jameer Nelson pick-and-roll sets, way too much fouling and poor work on the defensive glass. But thanks to active hands and craftiness in drawing offensive fouls, the Lakers held the Magic to 1.08 points per possession, a bit less than Orlando's season average. In Orlando's building that merits a passing grade.

The Lakers even did a great job of holding onto the ball themselves. In six of the last seven games coming into today, the Lakers had coughed up the orange roundie on at least 16% of their possessions. Today the turnover rate fell below 10%. Good stuff. The passing wasn't as careless and shambolic as it's been recently, which was nice to see.

But the shooting... good Lord. As a team the Lakers had an Effective Field-Goal Percentage of 40%. That's poisonously bad. Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Ron Artest and Jordan Farmar - four of their key perimeter shooters - combined to shoot 14 for 41 (34%) on two point shots and 4 for 15 (27%) on threes. Of the backcourt guys, only Shannon Brown (an EFG of 50%) found the hoop with acceptable regularity. For the three-game road trip, the Lakers shot 14 of 58 (24%) on three-point attempts.

This is not aberrant. The Lakers aren't a good shooting team. They're an average shooting team that's worse than average on threes. And this, to me, is where the "flip the switch" hypothesis starts to wobble. I get you can summon greater effort and intensity in the playoffs. You can defend harder, you can shorten your rotations, you can fight for rebounding position with more verve than you bring on an afternoon in early March. But how do you just decide to start making shots? Outside shooting isn't a function of effort. It's a function of being good at shooting.

Emptying ye olde notebook bullet-point style:

  • Kobe had another great offensive burst late in the fourth and had an OK first quarter. In between there were plenty of forced jumpers and what I would generally criticize as poor decision-making. I'm all for calling out Kobe when he's breaking the Triangle to dial his own number, but in this instance I give him a pass. The Lakers just didn't have any other good offensive options. If no one else is making an open look, I'm not sure a long series of Kobe iso's is worth getting outraged over.
  • For him, Fish played a decent game. Which is unfortunate, because his performance wasn't good in any overall, objective sense. Orlando generated a lot of points by having Nelson blow by Fish, causing the other Lakers to scramble on help D, and then swinging the ball around to the open man. Farmar wasn't much better at containing Jameer.
  • Dwight Howard played only 32 minutes because of foul trouble, but the Lakers failed to exploit the opening. In the 16 minutes he was off the court, L.A. outscored Orlando by only five points. Marcin Gortat is a good reserve center, but the Lakers have to win that matchup decisively when he's on the floor.
  • It might get lost in the outcome, but this was a decent bounce-back game from Pau. He didn't defend Howard as well as he did in the Finals, but he was adequate, and his scores off offensive rebounds were a key source of pointage. Quite visibly, he's frustrated with how he's being treated by the refs.
  • Kobe and Matt Barnes appear to be good friends.

At this point, I'm not sure it's even appropriate to debate whether the Lakers can flip the switch. Right now, there is no switch. There's just a hole in the wall and some loose wires hanging out. The Lakers need to fix the circuitry, repair the drywall, shop for a switch at Home Depot, screw it in and then pay their past-due bills with SoCal Edison. Then, maybe, there will be time left to flip it, and we can all hope the whole building doesn't short out.











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