The Los Angeles Lakers fell in Dallas tonight, looking terrible against the Mavericks in a 123-104 loss. LA struggled in almost every conceivable way tonight, but specifically defensively.
After just the third quarter, the Mavericks had cracked the 90 point mark, shooting over 50% on open look after open look. The Lakers were as bad defensively as some suspected they'd be this season, lacking any rim protection whatsoever and failing to adequately rotate around the perimeter. The lack of a paint presence again isn't a surprise, but giving up over 50 points in the paint is absolutely unacceptable for a team that isn't rebuilding. They have to improve in that regard if they are going to win on any given night. The problem there is that I'm not sure how they're going to be able to do so--Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol are great help defenders, but aren't front line options in terms of protecting the rim. LA is going to have to construct a defensive scheme that emphasizes their lateral movement to help in the lane and then utilize the center's size (thought not necessarily athleticism or shot blocking ability) to stop oppositions from crashing the rim at will.
The Mavericks looked like the team they were constructed as: decent defensively, but able to shoot the lights out on any given night. As has been tradition for the Lakers, Dallas's guards torched the Lakers to the tune of 51 points. Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon and rookie Gal Mekel were toasty all night, not only shooting a combined 19 for 28, but also facilitating the rest of the Mavs offense with a combined 0 2assists. Rick Carlisle's boys put on a clinic in passing and execution tonight, as their team looked absolutely crisp in outwitting a hapless Lakers D.
Even as bad as the Show's defense has been, it's nothing that was unexpected. The team could only depend on their energy to preserve their ability to lock down for so long before actual talent was needed. What's most disconcerting is just how ineffective the offense looked tonight. Though the peripheral stats looked solid--44% fro the field overall and 38% from behind the arc--but in watching the game it was apparent just how ineffective the Lakers looked operating the pick and roll, which should have been their strength this season. Moreover, the ball sharing that had been their hallmark of early success was rendered ineffective by the team missing open shots by the bucketload. Steve Nash, Jodie Meeks, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry and Steve Blake were given every opportunity to hit from long tonight, but every one of them failed to connect consistently. It's alarming how much this team depends on hustle points and streak shooting to win night after night. That's not a formula in making the playoffs--it's a formula for surprising good teams on an off night.
The good news--I guess--is that this game was as bad as the Lakers can possibly look. In fact, it's our worst fears coming to the surface: no paint protection, shoddy perimeter defense, an inability to guard the pick and roll, a energy drain on the road and an offense that's far too reliant on a young, inexperienced team to execute standard NBA-caliber plays. It's not as if the Lakers didn't play hard--they did--and perhaps that's scarier than anything.
After a surprising 2-2 opening week, this team badly needed a wake-up call to show them exactly what their weaknesses were and erase any delusions of perceived strength. Hopefully, this blow out helps them improve. But more than likely, these aren't weaknesses that can be easily allayed.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino