After a fourth quarter defensive meltdown in Miami on Thursday evening, the Los Angeles Lakers believed they could get back to winning on this Grammy Road Trip, heading to Orlando to match up with the Magic, a bottom feeder in the Eastern Conference.
Mike D’Antoni‘s group simply underestimated the athleticism and fight this young Orlando team has this year, despite entering the game with just 11 wins.
Sure enough, the Lakers allowed the opposition to break the century mark for an 11th consecutive game, and choked away a double digit lead to eventually fall 114-105 to the Magic.
Lakers connoisseurs are unfortunately aware that, no matter who is coaching the purple and gold, one player always singes the Los Angeles defense for a standout performance. Sometimes its a role player that would be one of your last guesses, and other times its players that we know are fully capable of exploding at any time. Take the first option of the two for Friday’s game, as Tobias Harris dominated the Lakers in multiple aspects for all four quarters. Finishing with 28 points and a career-high 20 rebounds, he exposed Ryan Kelly‘s weaknesses as a defender and fought his way to the paint on multiple occasions, where Pau Gasol simply didn’t want to be physical. Sure seems as if “physical” and “Pau” haven’t been a popular combination since the 2010 NBA Finals. The only Gasol that still makes it a top priority to put a body on his defensive assignment plays in Memphis.
“It’s good to go out there and just collect misses and push it up the court,” Harris stated after the game.
Leading 55-53 at the half, momentum looked to be in favor of Los Angeles. The beginning of the third quarter belonged to the purple and gold as well, increasing the margin to a 10-point game, 65-55, with 9:27 remaining in the quarter.
What they didn’t count on, however, was the scoring onslaught that was about to take place with by a Magic team full of young, selfless individuals.
Joining Harris in the club of 20+ points for Orlando, guard Arron Afflalo and long-time Magic floor general Jameer Nelson sparked a comeback in the third that couldn’t be contained by D’Antoni’s defense. Perhaps, it was due to fatigue. After all, this was the sixth straight road game for Los Angeles, as well as the end of a back-to-back after grinding through a war with Miami on Thursday.
Nonetheless, I strongly beg to differ. The effort, or lack thereof, on Friday only reinforced the fact that this Lakers team isn’t comprised of athletic defenders, or guys that even want to defend. It also illustrated just how crucial it is to control the glass, an aspect of the game that smacks Los Angeles fans right in the face when they realized Dwight Howard wasn’t persuaded to “stay.”
Los Angeles wasn’t decimated in the rebounding margin per say, allowing 51 to Orlando and collecting 40 of their own. Jordan Hill was more than active while in the game for his 20 minutes, as he grabbed 10 rebounds. His offense may not have been fluid all night, forcing tough turnaround hooks on occasions, but he played his role as the energy supplier.
Why Chris Kaman logged his fourth consecutive DNP … is beyond me. D’Antoni can coach the game of basketball, but he’s never going to be the best in relating to his players and coaching to their strengths. Kaman is a 7-foot veteran that always gives you 100 percent, especially in the facet of the game the Lakers’ have struggled all season; rebounding.
Through 44 games, Los Angeles has ranked 20th in the league in rebounds per night (42.6). Last season, they were consistently among the league leaders. The lack of a defensive-minded center is the screaming reason this group finds themselves 12 games below .500.
On offense, Nick Young (who leads the team in scoring) just appeared fatigued down the stretch of the game. Swaggy P failed to hit the 20-point mark again in Florida, scoring 16 points on 6-0f-16 shooting.
After the game, Young acknowledged that the energy level just wasn’t there for he and his teammates on Friday:
“I came here saying ‘I’m going to be tired today’ and I was,” Young told the media. “We’ve been fighting this whole road trip, but I can honestly say this is one of the games we let up a bit. We just lost that focus.”
Jodie Meeks continued his solid play by connecting on 7-of-12 field goals (including three 3-pointers) for 17 points. He has sure came a long way from just being a spot up shooter, however. Meeks may be having a better season than people anticipated, and it’s all because of the consistency D’Antoni has put on his starting backcourt. Meeks hasn’t had to worry about coming off the bench due to Kobe Bryant getting the start. It’s enabled him to feel more comfortable knowing he’s going to have to be responsible for a lot of the offense.
What’s most impressive about Meeks, is his increased efforts in attacking the rim at full force. Most players that are known for their “one dimensional” play style (perimeter shooting in Meeks’ case), typically don’t get a great reputation for penetrating the paint. Meeks added to his collection of versatility on Thursday in Miami, as he finished some wild plays at the rim that showed just how badly he wanted to come out of this trip down South with a win.
Gasol posted another quality offensive game to his season resume by scoring 21 points, grabbing 13 rebounds, and dishing six assists. It marked the 7th straight game the Spaniard scored 20 or more points, and the 10th of the month of January. Since the trade rumors have sightly quieted, he’s been able to pick his spots and have the offense ran through him for three quarters. However, we all know that when it’s fourth quarter do-or-die time, the offense strays away from the big man. It’s truly sad to watch the team seem to forget their best offensive weapon is in the middle, and settle for contested jumpers when they need to put together a run.
The player of the game for Los Angeles, in most people’s eyes, would be the ever so underrated Kendall Marshall. Critics are going to have their opinion on Marshall based on what his game produced last season, but his play as the Lakers’ starting point guard as has been marvelous.
Actually, marvelous is an understatement for the improvement we have witness transpire in the North Carolina product.
Marshall’s largest piece of criticism has always been his shooting form, and efficiency from deep. Hate to say it, but the shot still looks horrid. However, it’s falling with consistency. Marshall nailed five of his seven 3-point attempts in Friday’s loss, as many of them came at opportune times for the Lakers. On the season, he is 32-of-66 (48.5 percent) from the perimeter and shooting 44.4 percent from the field. Last season? He underachieved at 31.5 percent from beyond the arc. Defenses better begin thinking twice before they let Marshall square up and fire away. Even if it does appear to be a set shot at times rather than a jumper.
Los Angeles will have a day to rest before visiting an arena that just experienced new history.
The Lakers travel to New York to take on the Knicks in Madison Square Garden. On Friday, Carmelo Anthony broke Kobe Bryant’s 61-point record at Madison Square Garden by abusing the Charlotte Bobcats for 62 points in just over three quarters of play (he was subbed out of the game with 7:22 left in the fourth).
It will be the first meeting between the two this season, and the Western Conference’s worst defense better come ready to play. The more glory Anthony achieves in the Big Apple, perhaps limits his chances of heading to Hollywood in the summer.