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Lakers 91, Kings 100: Still Losers, No Longer Likable

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Lakers combined a gritty defensive effort with sharp offensive ball movement to build a lead against one of the teams projected to be among the league's best. They were energetic, they executed, they were ... fun. They were likable. And in the end, only some team-wide poor late game execution spoiled what would otherwise have been a perfect start to the NBA season. Don't worry, though, the Lakers managed to get everything squared away in 24 hours.

No, not the late game execution part. That's still terrible. Instead, the Lakers managed to "fix" all the qualities about yesterday's effort that might have brought a smile to your face and hope to your heart. Tonight, the Lakers D looked every bit as old and slow as we thought they might, since the roster is filled with players who are old and slow. The Lakers struggled to create shots, as we thought they might, since the roster has very few people capable of creating shots for themselves or others. They lacked energy, as we thought they might, because the roster is not strong enough or deep enough to provide the main contributors with quality rest. Tonight, the Lakers were our worst nightmare of what they can be this season, with none of last season's problems solved, and a host of new ones created by an off-season in which all but the most optimistic of fans will admit the Lakers got worse.

That's not panic you hear in my voice. It's resignation.

If not for last season ending with the Game 4 debacle, it would be tough to remember a game in which there were so few positives to take away from the game. Metta World Peace just about makes the entire list. He ably bullied his defenders, primarily Travis Outlaw, into repeatedly decent looks in and around the hoop, and then added a couple mid range jumpers for good measure in the 2nd half. His 19 points on 14 shots off the bench was easily the highlight of the night for the Lakers. He's joined in the happy column by fellow small forwards. Devin Ebanks continues to make the shots he takes at an exceedingly high clip, though the lack of translation of his success into more playing time (despite being the starter) means that the coaches still don't have full faith in the youngster. And Matt Barnes came in to provide the entire Matt Barnes package in just 14 minutes ... great hustle, active defense (he had 3 blocks in those 14 minutes) and one terribly missed three pointer.

And that, my friends, is the entire "good" list. The Lakers defense most certainly did not pick up where they left off yesterday. 24 hours ago, the Laker bigs hedged screens well and prevented penetration. Today, either the hedging wasn't working, or the screen was simply not necessary, as the Kings perimeter players got into the lane at will. The timely three point shooting which made the Lakers bench appear to be much better than advertised yesterday crashed to earth in stunning fashion, as the Lakers managed to hit just 6% of their deep attempts. But enough about team failures, let's get back to the individual "accolades".

Kobe Bryant backed up yesterday's effort with something very similar, posting a respectable 29 points on 24 shots, with 5 boards and 6 assists. He turned the ball over just twice (the Lakers as a team only turned the ball over on 10% of their possessions, which is a huge improvement over what we've seen so far this year). But he didn't shoot all that well from the field, and once again took tough shots down the stretch, none of which went in. Troy Murphy did his job, with 8 points and 8 boards. And the rest of the team was garbage. Josh McRoberts played just 21 minutes from a starting position, despite the fact that he didn't have a single foul. I haven't seen enough of McRoberts to know what kind of player he is, but I've seen enough to know what kind of player he isn't, and that is one that provides much of anything outside of dunks and layups on offense. He's a good passer out of the post, but I've yet to see him successfully navigate a post move to the basket, nor drain any kind of outside shot. Steve Blake did something I could never have thought possible ... he made me question his shot selection in the way I might with Kobe Bryant, being far too aggressive and taking a couple of bad three point attempts that led to fast break layups for the Kings. Andrew Goudelock did what rookies do and crashed back to earth. But the worst of all is reserved for the staples of any self-depricating Lakers fan's arsenal ... Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher and Luke Walton.

We all love our Fish and Luke jokes, but this is serious. Both guys continue to get too much playing time. For Fisher, that means the bulk of the minutes at lead guard, 30 in all. What he did with those 30 minutes would be enough to infuriate the Dalai Lama. He repeatedly jacked up contested shots, at one point looking off Josh McRoberts to launch a three, when McBob was closer to the basket than he was to ANY Kings defender. He got worked on offense no matter who he was guarding, of course, but the man hasn't been a net positive on offense in over two years. It really is a mystery how he can continue to command so many minutes on the court. The triangle is gone, and he wasn't all that useful in that offense to begin with. He is only a good defender when he's outnumbered by at least a 2 to 1 margin. There is no humor to be found in the statement that the Derek Fisher era needs to end. And Luke Walton ... should not be playing in an NBA game. He should definitely not be playing in an NBA game that isn't 100% already determined. Which makes the fact that Luke was apparently ahead of Matt Barnes on the depth chart to start this game a true and incomprehensible mystery. I get that a certain amount of experimentation is necessary to figure out your best rotations, Mike Brown, but if you needed just five minutes to figure out that Luke Walton is no longer capable of being an NBA player, then you probably didn't need those five minutes in the first place.

And Pau Gasol had one of the most Pau Gasol games ever. He was terrible in the first half, with 2 points on 1-5 shooting, and didn't bother to look interested or engaged until the 4th quarter, when he came alive to the tune of 8 points on 4-5 shooting. That all would have been great, except that with the lead cut to 5 with two minutes to play, Chuck Hayes of the Sacramento Kings went to the free throw line. He made the first, and missed the second, and Gasol got out-worked by DeMarcus Cousins for the offensive board. A resulting shooting foul sent Tyreke Evans to the line. He made the first and missed the second ... and Pau Gasol ended up fouling Cousins, who outworked Gasol again. Cousins missed his 2nd FT attempt too, and the Lakers nearly missed that board as well. 8 point game with two minutes left, game over, thanks for playing. As sure as the sun rises, some scribe is going to look at Pau Gasol's box score tomorrow, hear about how Pau had a sprained shoulder, and think to himself, "decent game for Gasol there. Lakers should have gotten him the ball more". That scribe will be wrong, incredibly, terribly wrong. I have no idea how much Gasol's shoulder is a burden to him, and I hate to shit on a guy playing through injury, but if ever there's a reason why Gasol's game is valued less by his own team's fans than by all others, tonight was it.

So that's your lot, and it's quite the message of doom and gloom. It is obviously too soon to give up on the Lakers' chances this year. The season is only two games old. The Kings shot the ball better than can be expected on a regular basis. Andrew Bynum is yet to take the court, and you can be sure the Lakers would be at least one game to the good if Drew were around to clear things up on the glass and protect the rim from the drives of annoyingly quick guards like Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans. The team is adapting to a new coach with new defensive and offensive preferences, and that takes more time than the hastily assembled two-week training camp allowed for. The Lakers can get better as the season goes on, they should get better as the season goes on.

But two games is a greater sample size than one, and here's what game 2 told us. The Lakers continue to have terrible late game execution. It doesn't even matter anymore who you want to blame for this, the simple fact is no one should have any confidence in this team's ability to close out a game, from in front or behind, until we're given evidence to the contrary. We also know that either A) it took all of one game, a loss no less, for the Lakers to come to the conclusion that it is acceptable to play with lower energy against lesser opponents or B) that the Lakers lack depth and conditioning enough that playing the 2nd game of a back-to-back, of which there will be many in fast and furious conditions, will be a significant factor in how much energy they can bring into a game. If I'm honest, I'm not sure which possibility troubles me more.

This is not a lottery-bound team (unless one or more of the big three goes down for a very lengthy period of time). But it sure as hell doesn't seem like a championship bound team either, and around these parts, that's the only standard that matters.










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