The Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Phoenix Suns 120-101 on Tuesday night, their 9th loss in their first 11 games, tying their worst 11-game start in franchise history, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The team has looked the part on the court, and their efficiency ratings back it up: as of Tuesday night, the Lakers possessed the NBA's fourth worst defense, offense, and net rating. The ultra-pipe dream of playoff contention the team professed during the lead-up to the regular season is over.
In addition to not being a very good basketball team, there were a few factors making things worse on the Lakers on Tuesday night. The team was playing in the dreaded home and away back-to-back, only getting in to Phoenix at around 1:00 on Tuesday morning after getting their second win of the year in a hard fought game against the Detroit Pistons the night before in Los Angeles. Lakers head coach Byron Scott did not want any excuses about fatigue after the team hung with the Suns for three quarters before giving up a 40 point fourth quarter as Phoenix pulled away:
Scott: "I keep hearing about this ‘back-to-back.' That to me is a bunch of crap. It really is. It's basketball. You come ready to play."— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) November 17, 2015
That was not the only platitude Scott had to blame for the Lakers latest loss:
Byron Scott: "Our guys gave an effort, but I thought their effort was 10 times better." How do you fix that? "It's all about manning up."— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) November 17, 2015
This is at least the second time Scott has called his players' manhood into question after a loss. This is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which are the vaguely sexist undertones, but Scott is a product of a different time and probably did not mean it like this, so I will assume he was basically equating "manning up" with toughness here.
That's a problem because some lack of being "men" or "toughness" or "grit" is not to blame for the Lakers problems. This is a roster full of mostly poor defensive players outside of Roy Hibbert and flashes of Larry Nance, Jr. Compound that with Scott's increasingly baffling decision to continue to play Brandon Bass at center and you have the recipe for a 40-point quarter from the Suns.
The Lakers trailed 80-75 entering the fourth quarter. The team promptly gave up 21-11 run as Bass once again was run out by Scott as the five-man with Marcelo Huertas, Nick Young, Lou Williams, and Larry Nance, Jr. Replace Nance, Jr. with Ryan Kelly and that is basically the worst defensive lineup the Lakers could play. The first issue was being unable to recover from turnovers like this one:
This was a sloppy giveaway from Huertas, who telegraphed his pass when he cocked his arm back, giving T.J. Warren an easy steal and dunk. Huertas' tipping off defenders with his movements like this was an issue I worried would give him trouble once opponents had more tape on him, and that flared up here.
The Lakers' transition defense was bad, but runouts will kill any team. The bigger issue was the team's halfcourt defense. You may want to avert your eyes, because things got ugly:
Brandon Knight got his first career triple-double against the Lakers, and the team made it easy on him in the fourth when Scott did not even pretend to prioritize protecting the rim based off of his lineup choices. Here Lou Williams loses Warren on a backcut while he and the rest of the Lakers' defense watch Knight, and Nance, Jr.'s rotation is too late to save an easy basket.
On this possession Knight ran a simple pick and roll with Alex Len. No one bumped Len on his way to the rim or even bothered to cover him once he got there, and the Suns scored another easy basket.
Here Williams again loses track of his man on a back cut, this time Archie Goodwin, and Knight has another easy assist to fuel the Suns' run.
Another pick and roll with Knight and Len, and while this time Bass did attempt to stay with the mobile 7-footer, he lunged too late to intercept the pass and was unable to recover well enough to keep from doing any more than fouling Len as he scored anyway.
That possession ended the bloodshed for that lineup, which had an almost incoceivable net-rating of -64.6 in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile:
Lakers starters played 14 minutes together vs. the Suns, had an OEff of 123.9 & a DEff of 95.7. Played zero 4th quarter minutes together.— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) November 17, 2015
So Scott played an exclusively veteran lineup (other than Nance, Jr.) while his young core of Jordan Clarkson, D'Angelo Russell, and Julius Randle sat on the bench with Roy Hibbert (his best defender) while his team was competing in another winnable game. The lineup Scott chose was predictably horrible defensibly while the young pieces of the Lakers' future missed out on valuable development time, and then he decided to call out his team for their lack of "manhood" after the game. To be fair, Scott does not have a lot of good choices defensively, but it's hard to say he did not make one of the worst choices he could have based on those options.
Growing up, my dad always told me that one of the most important things I needed to be able to do as I became a man was being tough enough to admit my mistakes. Maybe before the next time Byron Scott calls out his players for not "manning up," he should "man up" and admit his.