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Lakers 87, Bulls 88: Whatever, At Least We Got Basketball

Welcome to the Mike Brown era, Laker fans. I realize that sounds derisive and a little dickish, but I honestly don't mean it as such. Even though the Lakers fell to the Bulls, 88 to 87, at Staples Center this afternoon, there was a great deal in their performance to be positive about. We got ourselves a look at an early draft of the Mike Brown Lakers, and for the most part I liked what I saw. A victory would have been splendid, of course, and the particular way things fell apart in the endgame is pretty galling, but look: it's Christmas. Let's be nice and keep the long knives in the drawer at least until tomorrow.

The basis of Brown's appeal as a coach is his ability to shape a defense. This was very much in evidence today. Andrew Bynum served the first game of his four-game suspension, so the Lakers had to gird themselves against the Derrick Rose Express without their best defensive player. After a slow start Rose was deadly, scoring 22 points (including the game-winner) on 13 shots, but the Bulls as a team barely scratched a point per possession. Aside from a stretch in the second quarter when their shooters caught fire, the Bulls' offense was stifled all day long. The Laker bigs played their asses off. Pau Gasol and Josh McRoberts and rebounded with fire and did everything they could to guard the rim. The perimeter rotations, too, were miles better than what we saw last year. Small sample size, warnings about confirmation bias and all that, but this is what Brown was brought in to do.

Let's keep going with the positives, yes? Devin Ebanks started at small forward and proved himself worthy of the role. He played 23 minutes, made 4 of 5 shots and gave the impression of a guy who made excellent strides in his game over the summer. That low-usage, high-efficiency performance is exactly what the Lakers need out of their starting three.

Steve Blake and rookie Andrew Goudelock had good games off the bench. I'd like to have seen Goudelock get more than 13 minutes, but I really can't complain. That the Lakers gave minutes to and got real production from a rookie is such a shock I'm having palpitations. High five to Mike Brown for letting Ebanks and Goudelock show what they can do. The kids will be needed this year.

Offensively, the Lakers looked like... well, like a team without all its pieces, adjusting to a new playbook and up against a stellar defensive squad. There were 17 turnovers, almost half by Kobe Bryant, whose injured wrist clearly affected his ability to handle the rock. Too often he served as the de facto point guard. He and the offense were more fluid when Blake was the primary ball-handler. Darius Morris could've helped out in that role and should've been given some of Derek Fisher's minutes, but for some reason Morris was not on the active roster today.

Speaking of Fish, he (1 for 5) and Metta World Peace (2 for 6) looked exactly like the offensive deadweights you remember from last season. (MWP played 25 minutes while Matt Barnes never got off the bench. A curious allocation, to say the least.) And Pau, though manly on defense, didn't shoot well from the field (6 for 14) or from the line (2 for 6) and got a little ball-stoppy at times. As a team the Lakers made 25 percent of their threes and 55 percent of their free throws. Obviously it's a little hard to win that way.

In the end the Lakers were done in by that thing they seemingly haven't managed to do well in years: end-game offense. They led by three and had the ball with 28 seconds left. From that point on, they ran three offensive possessions that were all pretty catastrophic:

  • First, Kobe attempted a closely challenged 14-foot jumper over the long, long arms of Luol Deng. There were six seconds left on the shot clock so it's not like they had all the time in the world to run a complicated set. Still, not really the greatest look.
  • After two Deng free throws closed the lead to a single point, Mike Brown called time out to advance the ball. MWP passed to Kobe just on the front court side of the halfcourt line. As Sebastian Pruiti pointed out on Twitter, this is precisely the worst spot on the floor to pass the ball into. If you're going to pass the ball backwards, chuck it all the way into the backcourt (this is legal) so the recipient of the pass has the entire backcourt in which to maneuver. By passing instead to Kobe just inside the halfcourt line, he's prohibited from going backwards and is vulnerable to the trap. Which is exactly what happened. Rose and Joakim Noah collapsed on Kobe, who at that point should have burned the Lakers' last timeout. Instead, he tried a jump pass to Gasol that was intercepted by Deng, setting up the Rose one-handed runner that put the Bulls in the lead.
  • On the final possession of the game, Brown deployed the imaginative playcalling he's known for and ran, you guessed it, an isolation for LeBron James I mean Kobe Bryant. Shot blocked. Game over. The Lakers are 0-1.

Kobe, Pau, Coach Brown... pretty much everyone has a few mistakes to stew over this evening. But if you're looking for one guy to blame, how about Andrew Bynum? He's suspended because he acted like a total jackass in last year's playoffs, and if he'd been on the floor this afternoon the Lakers would almost certainly be undefeated. His absence also meant that Pau took a huge beating in the paint, which doesn't bode well for his condition tomorrow and Tuesday. More than anyone, this loss is on Drew.

To the guys who showed up to play, I give a qualified thumbs up. Maybe this Lakers team won't be as good as they've been the past few years, but I have a feeling guys like McBobs and Goudelock and Ebanks - and yes, Mike Brown - will make them more fun to watch. We've all lived through Christmas losses much worse than this. Compared to last year and the year before, not to mention the lockout, this is nothing.










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Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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