In what can only be described as ugly, the Los Angeles Lakers offense can to a grinding halt at Philips Arena, losing to the soaring Atlanta Hawks, 86-76. Kobe Bryant skipped the morning film session because he was feeling under the weather. Unfortunately for the Lakers, their play today looked equally sick. Lacking any energy, the Lakers were consistently beaten on hustle plays. Former Lakers Maurice Evans made his old teammates pay by beating them to the punch, whether it was corralling an errant pass or diving for a loose ball. The Lakers shot a miserable 35% from the field. Atlanta didn’t fare much better, shooting only 39%, but they connected on 10-19 three pointers (53%) to carry them to the victory. Mike Bibby led the way for the Hawks with 21 points hitting 5-6 on treys, followed by Ronald Murray off the bench with 14 points. An improbable double-double was accomplished by Zaza Pachula with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Mo Evans contributed 13 points and leading scorer Joe Johnson was limited to only 10 points, although he managed to dish off for 8 assists.
Pau Gasol led the Lakers with 21 points and 11 rebounds, but he only attempted ten shots. The Lakers could not, and did not get the ball enough to Gasol, and instead relied on launching threes, where they shot a horrible 4-20. Kobe scored 17 points on a labored 7-19, missing mid-range shots that he normally drains. No other Lakers scored in double figures. In fact, the other 3 starters consisting of Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza and Derek Fisher shot a combined 9-36. Josh Powell and Sasha Vujacic 0-fer’ed, missing on all of their 8 attempts. Yet with the entire team struggling offensively, the Lakers found themselves trailing by only one point heading into halftime, 40-39. Any hope for another comeback was extinguished with the Hawks outscoring the Lakers, 32-19 in the third quarter. The Lakers managed to trim the Hawks 14-point 4th quarter lead to 76-68, but a pair of Bibby triples was the knockout punch that did them in, with the second of the two bouncing high above the backboard and then appear to be heading out-of-bounds, only to bounce instead on the top of the backboard and fall cleanly through the net. Managing only 37 points in the second half, the Lakers set a new record in futility with their lowest point total of the season.
dEDGE Post Scriptum
The disturbing part of this game was not the Lakers ineffective shooting, but rather the poor energy level that they displayed. Lamar continually tried to force the issue by driving the crowded lane and instead threw up poor shot attempts. The normally energetic Powell had difficulty hanging onto the ball and had his back turned on defense on numerous occasions allowing for easy, uncontested Atlanta scores. Trevor is at his best when he is roaming the floor, cutting and slicing through openings in the defense, but has recently fallen in love with the three-ball, not to mention the entire bench. Sasha and Jordan Farmer need to get back to basics, moving the ball around the perimeter for the high percentage shot, rather than settling for the three. The Lakers look like they can definitely benefit from some stronger leadership on the floor. Should Phil Jackson throw a Pat Riley and give his team the riot-act? Or is this solely Kobe’s responsibility? Should this be what’s expected of an MVP to provide in a time of need? Or is this merely one game of 82?
Now trailing Cleveland by a two full games, it will be extremely difficult for the Lakers to catch the Cavaliers for the best overall record. It may be time for the Lakers to stop stressing about them and start concentrating on playing more cohesively as a unit instead. There are far too many mental errors occurring and they can easily derail this team from its ultimate goal. There’s no sense in chasing the best record in the league if it doesn’t amount to a championship. I’d rather take our chances without home court advantage in the Finals, than to beat ourselves into the ground for a meaningless accomplishment. It’s time to fine-tune our playmaking, rediscover our offensive sets, reestablish our defensive prowess, and get back to business.