This isn't something new for the Lakers. The team hasn't cared enough to get up for every regular season game since...just about forever, really. Phil Jackson was in many ways the anti-Tom Thibodeau: instead of riding his guys 110% every game, he had no problem with his guys taking the regular season in rhythm and dropping games wasn't considered a big deal in the long run. And although Kobe Bryant is the only constant from those teams this past decade, he embodies this approach, as his legendary competitiveness and killer instinct doesn't translate into giving two craps about his defensive responsibility or offensive execution a fair chunk of the time.
So after the Lakers thoroughly tore apart the Wizards in the first half, the team saw fit to pull the foot off the gas pedal and it's as typical of an approach for this team as you can imagine. There's no impulse to further push down on the throat and extend a fifteen point lead to a twenty point one, a twenty point one to a thirty point one. It's especially galling considering that both effort and execution faltered as the game went on and while the latter is tolerable, the former is not so much. Mike D'Antoni isn't a grinder like Mike Brown was, but his postgame rant was pretty justified in this case. It's one thing not to give 110% all the time and another thing entirely to treat their second half effort as something remotely acceptable.
- Dwight Howard -- Howard's constant effort stands in contrast to this approach, as due to his athleticism and conditioning coming back, you will rarely see him outworked unless he's trying to avoid foul trouble. It's an interesting counterpoint to the team's usual modus operandi and an encouraging one seeing that Dwight is the long-term future of the franchise. Meanwhile, Dwight on offense looked much as we expected him to at the start of the year: with everyone healthy, it's a dunk-a-thon for Dwight, who just has to finish everything at the rim. He also made some excellent interior passes to Pau Gasol and various perimeter shooters, however, indicating how he's becoming more comfortable under the auspices of D'Antoni's offense. Heck, he even nailed an eighteen footer in rhythm, something which we should discourage but it's great for him to make the shot. In any case, we expected the execution to be a bit dicey with two players returning from injury, but Dwight used this to his benefit in a big way. That 20-15-3 feels like a normal line from him is testament to how he's rounding back into form.
- Antawn Jamison -- We'll have to hope that Jamison's injury doesn't adversely affect his shooting since it's been sustaining the Lakers' offense since the All-Star break. He's also acquired a particular knack for the offensive boards, the timing and positioning he uses on his cuts manifesting in a different form here. Otherwise, it was a fairly typical Jamison game: getting his points around the rim, hitting a jumper or two, and dealing with his mediocre defense, although having fewer minutes with the Lakers' full rotation back has limited adverse effects in that regard. In other words, it is the role we envisioned for Jamison when we signed him.
- Metta World Peace -- Good shot selection from Metta? Six threes, making half of them, and a limited amount of crazy incursions inside the arc? That more closely resembles the Metta we remember from the start of his Lakers tenure and his defensive versatility was at play when he was asked to guard wings with the Lakers standard lineup and Nene when put at the four. You'd wish that the Metta that broke out offensively in Kobe's absence and the one that resigns himself to be a spot-up shooter would merge into a conscientious version that is able to balance the two, but a Metta that isn't taking tons of ill-advised shots is enough progress for the moment.
- Jodie Meeks -- Bring back the full rotation and suddenly Meeks' smart offensive play comes into focus, as he twice scored on really good cuts to the basket and the Lakers have no shortage of excellent passers that can get him the ball so long as he positions himself correctly. He also was one of the few Lakers offensive players who didn't crater in the fourth quarter as he hit a pair of threes, although it was ultimately insufficient to stem the Lakers' downward trend. He's certainly outmatched as a starter, but allow him to work off the rest of the Lakers' stars without needing to manufacture his own shots and he looks like a rotation player.
- Honorable mention to Earl Clark, who had a fairly decent start to his new role as a limited backup off the bench. He hit a three, dunked off a sweet bounce pass from Nash, and played decent defense in his limited amount of minutes on the floor. Perhaps he deserves slightly more than seven minutes on the floor, especially given how many minutes MWP ended up playing, but given his recent regressing, it might be good for D'Antoni to slowly edge him into his new role.
- Kobe Bryant -- We've spoken on this time and time again. It's a grievous error for Kobe to think that there's a binary between "passing" and "shooting," rather than taking what the defense gives him and becoming a proper playmaker. Too often would Kobe try to snake an impossible pass through multiple defenders instead of taking the open shot available to him or when he got into hero mode, attempt a highly difficult shot without involving anyone else in the possession. To be sure, Kobe had plenty of great moments in the game, as eleven assists attest to and he has developed a particular attentiveness to feeding Dwight at opportune moments. But his overall offensive approach left a lot to be desired, especially since he was pursuing such an efficient approach this year, as his attempts to attack the rim were replaced with his usual bunch of long jumpers. Finally, Kobe's defense, as Drew broke down for all of us, was inexcusably awful and a major contributor to the Lakers' loss. There's simply no justification for it: Kobe isn't a Dwyane Wade type who is going to get steals and blocks on the weak side and that he attempts to pin his responsibilities on others by asking them to rotate makes it even more reprehensible.
- Steve Nash -- The unfortunate side effect of the Kobe ball domination and Pau's return was that Nash got lost in the offense again, as while a 9-6-3 line isn't bad, it's not maximizing what the team can get out of Nash either. His shooting does have to improve a tad, as he was simply missing shots against Washington, but the team could benefit from a lot more of him handling the ball in Horns sets and so forth. Nash also spent most of the game getting roasted by John Wall on defense, although he competed fairly well and this probably was a matchup that would have benefited from putting Kobe on in order to keep him occupied. Nash also had one sequence in which he actually blocked Wall's shot, in which the embarrassment from doing so probably compelled the referees to call a foul.
- Pau Gasol -- Pau has all the excuses in the world for his performance, but it's hard to see him miss all but one of his shots in the paint and brick practically all of his jumpers. His passing also wasn't on point for most of the game and he had a few outright bad sequences in that regard. Regardless of where he's operating, he simply needs to perform better. There's no schematic issue at play here: he just has to convert his opportunities. On the other end, his defense was rather ineffectual, as while he wasn't necessarily outmatched at the four, he wasn't stopping dribble penetration at the rim either at the five. Hopefully he continues to recover and the team can develop some chemistry with the team in the meantime.
- (Dis)honorable mention to Steve Blake, who had one of his rare inefficient games these days, his shooting percentages and turnovers catching up to an otherwise decent night. He's perhaps growing too much in love with those stepback jumpers, as while he's helped to carry the Lakers' offense recently, there's a time for him to take a back seat when it's not his night shooting-wise. Given his recent play, we can probably just treat this as a small blip on what has otherwise been a set of solid performances since his return from injury.