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Great Dessert, Awful Meal

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Can we blame this on the lockout? I submit that we can, and we should. I know it's a little ungenerous to be griping after how that game ended - the Derek Fisher three was awesome, the Lakers' fourth quarter defense even better - but the journey matters almost as much as the destination, and tonight's was a long family car trip across Nebraska lengthwise. The Lakers and Mavericks competed like hell to see who could be crappier, and if Fisher's shot had gone out and Vince Carter's in, morale around here would be flatlining. Up next for the Lakers is a two-game roadtrip through Florida, starting in the Miami deathtrap, so a victory over Dallas this evening was close to mandatory. And they damn near came close to blowing it.

The Lakers just barely put away an opponent that couldn't shoot or sometimes even complete a pass. Quality of play-wise, the game was poop. The Mavs managed 0.80 points per possession, and the Lakers nudged past them at 0.84 per trip. There was some good defense on both sides, notably Shawn Marion's work on Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol's on Dirk Nowitzki, but let's put away the lipstick. The offenses were grimly incompetent. Mostly this resulted from old teams having to play a game every 36 hours because of the lockout-condensed schedule. Legs were heavy. Concentration was poor. Maybe I'm giving both squads too much credit, but for the time being I'm OK writing this off as a symptom of fatigue. So long as that means I don't have to think about the first 47 minutes and 56 seconds ever again.

Did the Lakers do anything well on offense? No, not really. I supposed they did a solid job of limiting their turnovers, particularly in light of their difficulties this season and that the Mavs entered the game leading the league in turnovers forced. Beyond that... I got nothing. Although Kobe didn't play poorly, he never quite shook free of Marion and didn't come close to extending his 40-point streak. Andrew Bynum was the closest thing the Lakers had to a dependable offensive weapon. He scored 17 and grabbed the occasional offensive board. Josh McRoberts had a few nice moments, including a reverse alley-oop finish. And of course, the Fish game-winner was minty as hell.

There's no way, however, this should've been enough to win the game. The Lake Show offense is a wheezy, sputtering contraption. It regularly falls into some of the most brutal funks. Tonight there were two of them, once in the first quarter (when the Lakers managed 0.60 points per possession) and then a plunge into Big 10 play during the third (when they managed seven points total). They're abysmal long-distance shooters who didn't make a three-pointer until the Fisher bomb at the end. Often they compensate by generating second looks on the glass, but not tonight or anytime recently. For the season the Lakers have rebounded 28 percent of their own misses, a decent clip, but in this one that figure dropped to 15 percent. It's been at 25 percent or below each of the last four games.

Helpfully, the Mavs have forgotten how to shoot as well. In the preview this morning, we discussed how brickey has contributed to their occasional early-season difficulties. At Staples this evening they simply could not propel the ball into the red round thing. Dirk was 8 for 17, which isn't terrible, but he had to work for those eight makes. Pau was up into Dirk's body and field of vision and allowed his fellow Euro few comfortable looks.

There was no functional second option for the Dallas attack. Typically it would be Jason Terry (3 for 10), whom I can barely remember being on the court. Shawn Marion (also 3 for 10) couldn't convert activity on the offensive glass into made buckets. Lamar Odom was actually the Mavs' leading scorer at halftime but shot 1 for 7 in the second half. Jason Kidd shot 1 for 9 and honked all eight from long distance. Obviously this was a far different experience that Game Four of last year's playoffs, when Dallas made 20 threes.

I guess this is how the Lakers intend to win games this year. We should probably get used to it. Mike Brown arrived in Los Angeles with a reputation for defensive magic and offensive mediocrity, and it's only surprising that the results have mapped so closely our preconceptions. No question he has the Lakers playing energetic and at times beautifully savage defense. Will it work against LeBron James, the man Brown used to coach? Probably not, because most things don't work against LeBron, but I'm interested to see what Brown cooks up. Almost as interested as I am in forgetting the basketball I saw tonight.










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