The Los Angeles Lakers were absolutely rolling in the first half against the Charlotte Hornets, with their 73 points through two quarters appearing to be plenty for them to cruise to a win. Jordan Clarkson had knocked down his first five three-pointers en route to a career-high seven of them, and the Lakers as a team were shooting 58 percent from the field and a staggering 66.7 percent from deep.
Things went slightly less well in the second half, where the Lakers completed one of the more efficient and epic collapses of the NBA season so far to fall 117-113 to the Charlotte Hornets. The loss was the Lakers’ 20th of the season and tenth in the last 11 games, and was arguably the biggest self-inflicted wound the Lakers have suffered all season.
So how did things go so wrong for Los Angeles, especially in the second half? Let us count the ways:
The Lakers defended poorly the entire night
The above bullet-point has been one of the Lakers’ biggest staples all season, and should honestly just be expected on most nights at this stage of the team’s rebuild. The Lakers blew help assignments and rotations, didn’t get back all that well in transition, and looked mostly listless defensively, which is how the Hornets ended up with a shot chart like this:
Charlotte taking nearly half of their shots at the rim while shooting 60 percent there is a solid recipe for success, as is being allowed enough open looks to shoot 44 percent behind the arc. Those two factors allowed a Hornets’ offense that has ranked 16th in the NBA in offensive efficiency (scoring 104.3 points per 100 possessions) to burn nets at a rate that would translate to 118.7 points per 100 possessions (almost exactly what they did score, which would rank as the best offensive efficiency in the NBA).
The Lakers’ offensive rating in the first half was an absolutely ludicrous 154.7 points per 100 possessions, but their bad defense was bad news again because:
The Hornets kept scoring at the same rate while Lakers’ own offense cratered
Charlotte stung the Lakers with a 15-0 run to start the second half, obliterating what was a 73-59 Lakers’ lead at the break. Aside from that blistering stretch, the Hornets were actually a slightly worse offensive team in the second half, scoring 58 points after dropping 59 in the first. Clearly Lakers head coach Luke Walton made some big adjustments at the break to slow them down.
Hornets head man Steve Clifford and his team’s changes on defense (and some naturally cooling shooting for the Lakers) made a larger difference in the game, however. After shooting shooting 58 percent from the field and 66.7 percent on threes, the Lakers shot 37.5 percent and 26.7 percent in those categories, respectively, in the second half.
Clarkson (75 percent shooting) and Russell (50 percent) continued to cook, but the rest of the Lakers shot a combined 8-28 in the second half (28.5 percent). Those numbers are ugly, however, the game still could have been won by Los Angeles but:
The Lakers didn’t take advantage of turnovers
On its face, the turnover battle between the Lakers and the Hornets looks fairly even. Los Angeles coughed the ball up 12 times, while Charlotte committed ten. The difference was what the teams did with their extra opportunities.
The Lakers scored zero points off of turnovers, but the Hornets scored 17 of their 117 points off of Los Angeles’ miscues. In a game the Lakers lost by four points, it’s impossible not to think that if the team was a bit better on the break against Charlotte they could have pulled this game out.
But despite their pitiful transition attack, the Lakers still could have won their second game of the current road trip if they executed better down the stretch.
The Lakers took some truly poor shots to end the game
Removing Russell’s meaningless final heave with the Lakers’ trailing by four and time all but expired, Nick Young took (and missed) the final three shots for Los Angeles. Young was hot for most of the night (24 points on 50 percent shooting from both the field and behind the arc), but his final couple of looks can’t really be categorized as good ones:
There was a quick pull-up out of a pick-and-roll:
The Lakers were low on shot clock for the second one, to be fair to Young:
On the third one, Young just went and got the ball and fired another off-balance jumper:
On some level the Lakers are going to die as they’ve lived with Young’s hot streaks, and none of those shots are unforgivable, but it’s fair to wonder whether or not Russell could have created better shots for either himself or a teammate.
Even if Walton was unsatisfied with Russell’s defensive effort (a fair assumption based on Russell being subbed out after the Hornets’ aforementioned huge run to start the second half), Walton could have went offense-defense with his subs to get a more natural playmaker on the floor towards the end of the game.
Judging by Twitter, a lot of fans aren’t going to be happy with another loss even with slight progress shown, but the real story of the team’s loss to the Hornets is how many things a playoff team needed to go wrong just to squeak out a win against the still feisty Lakers.