The road woes continued as the Los Angeles Lakers fell to the Charlotte Bobcats, 94-84 at Time Warner Cable Arena. Outscored in every quarter except for the 2nd (20-18), the Lakers struggled offensively again. They shot only 39% and managed to attempt only 6 free throws, connecting on four. Meanwhile, the Bobcats had 6 players score in double figures, led by Gerald Wallace with 21 points and 13 rebounds. PG Raymond Felton provided 16 points and his back-up, DJ Augustine added 14 points. The Lakers were led by Kobe Bryant with 25 points (11-28 from the field) and Lamar Odom with 20 points and 9 rebounds. Pau Gasol added 16 points and 11 rebounds, but the bench was non-existent contributing a meager 11 points. (4 of those points coming with less than a minute left in regulation.) For their efforts, the Bobcats moved to within one game of the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. On hand for the game was an unusually animated Bobcats Managing Partner, Michael Jordan, who encouraged his team on to victory with constant chatter and applause.
The Lakers appeared a step slower than the friskier Bobcats, and it showed in their offensive sets, where they settled for long range jumpers instead of taking the ball to the hoop. Of their 14 three point attempts, the Lakers hit on only 4 for 28% accuracy. Vlade Radmanovic appears to fit nicely into the Bobcats rotation, where he is called upon to provide instant offense. On one peculiar Vlade possession, he caught the ball deep under the basket along the baseline and pump-faked a shot, only to have the ball sail high out of his hands and swish cleanly through the hoop. As he stared at the basket with his signature gape of disbelief, all Phil Jackson could do was sit back in his chair and roll his eyes.
There’s no need to go into any great detail to explain this loss. The bottom line is the Lakers are not playing well as a unit. Are their road weary? Is Kobe too banged up? Should we cut them some slack? With only a handful of games left, and now trailing Cleveland by three full games for the best overall record, maybe the Lakers should look instead to re-charging their batteries so that they will be mentally and physically prepared for the playoffs. This team is extremely difficult to read. They aren’t the workhorse teams of Showtime and Magic Johnson, nor are they the talent-laden squads of the Shaq and Kobe era. They are in fact a very young and emotionally frail team led by an enigmatic superstar. Our bench wilts under pressure and resembles a desperate hitter, swinging with all its might for the slim chance of smacking a home run. And lately, all they’ve been doing is striking out. To say that the Lakers defense has been adequate would be stretching the truth. Instead they’ve been fortunate to go up against teams that haven’t been able to sustain a consistent offensive rhythm themselves. And that is what makes these losses so difficult to explain. Had the Lakers merely performed at half of their capabilities, we would be talking about how we were going to catch Cleveland and discussing Andrew Bynum’s foray at the Playboy mansion instead.
dEDGE Post Scriptum
Red Auerbach, Red Holtzman, Chuck Daly, Larry Brown, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson. Among these Hall-of-Famers, who is the greatest NBA head coach of all time? If you left this decision up to the statistics alone, Phil Jackson with his .705 winning percentage clearly stands alone. His 9 championships tie him with most ever with Red Auerbach. He became only the sixth NBA coach in league history to reach 1,000 wins earlier this season. Yet there remain detractors that he inherited talented, far superior teams that only needed someone to roll out the balls. They used to say this about Pat Riley after he stepped down from his temporary perch, situated high above the Forum floor next to Chick Hearn, after he garnered his first head coaching title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1982. Four NBA titles later (Lakers-3/Miami Heat-1), and now this is just a foolish notion spurned on by other jealous organizations still searching for their first taste of champagne. Phil has 9 rings in addition to the 2 he earned as a player with the Knicks, yet he is still questioned on his uncanny good fortune, his moxie, and his coaching abilities. Even Laker fans fuel this speculation by second guessing his play calls, or lack thereof. Phil will leave his players stranded on a deserted island in order to force them to figure a way off by themselves. And when they become Gilligan’s Island, the naysayers appear out in force.
A good teacher teaches. A better teacher empowers others to think for themselves. Split-second decisions can make or break a title run. It is these instances where regular season lessons are taught. If Phil called a time-out on every possession to set up a play, all intuitiveness is lost. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden seldom called time-outs during games nor felt that they were all that necessary. Practices were where players were taught. Games were for the execution of those lessons. Phil has obviously succeeded in this approach, for his record speaks for itself. Our passion as Laker fans live in every detail, the smallest of minutiae, and every split second of each contest. It is for these reasons that we yell at the television screen, palms up in disbelief over a botched play that could have been set-up in the huddle. But these are the sacrifices that we must learn to endure, with our primary focus directed on the bigger picture–a sip of champagne and a shiny, new trophy.