The end of the Grammy Road trip was supposed to be a gratifying experience. Instead, a heap of bad news and results swarmed through the Los Angeles Lakers organization on Tuesday.
Before that’s addressed, all the Lakers needed to pile on top was the fact that the NBA’s leading juggernaut, the Indiana Pacers, were visiting Staples Center.
After hanging around for most of the night, Los Angeles faltered in the second half and gave away their 30th loss of the season, falling to Indiana 104-92.
Out of the gates, the Lakers seemed to be executing fairly well, and staying true to their strengths. The first quarter consisted of interesting battles between Pau Gasol and David West, who both had their moments on the offensive end. In a quarter where neither team shot the ball exceptionally well, the Lakers held Indiana to just 39 percent shooting in the opening stanza and gave their fans hope that their defense would just finally be solid enough for one game.
Marshall, who started his 14th game for these decimated Lakers, has been one of the best floor generals in the league since coming up from the D-League. In fact, he shows promise that he can be a long-term option for this roster, especially since Steve Nash is under contract for next season and his health is more unpredictable than Terrence Ross putting up 51 points. Marshall connected with Gasol on numerous occasions, particularly in the second quarter, with their mini pick-and-roll sequences. It has appeared as their favorite maneuver, as Gasol sets the screen and Marshall finds him for a 13-15 foot jumper instead of having Gasol roll further towards the rim. It was proving to aggravate Indiana, since it frequently pulled David West and Roy Hibbert away from the rim on defense.
Marshall finished with 11 points and 13 assists, netting his eighth double double of the season. Only 10 other NBA point guards have more double doubles on the season, but all of them have played at least 25 games. Marshall’s stellar decision making and ability to set up his teammates has given him at least 13 assists in seven games this year. Not to mention, he’s making noise with Lakers history, as his assists total through his 14 games as a starter (161) is the most of any Laker in franchise history in their first 14 games as a starter.
The third quarter was a tale of a familiar tape.
Throughout this season, the Lakers have failed to put together defensive stands coming out of the halftime locker room and have found too many of their leads vanished away. The Pacers, on the other hand, thrive on their halftime adjustments and come out swinging in the third. Indiana wasted no time, putting together a quick 10-2 run and caught the Lakers off guard. Outscoring Los Angeles 30-20 in the third, Indiana rode along the Lance Stephenson train and headed into the final quarter with a double digit lead, 79-69. Stephenson got back to what he lives on; attacking the paint and pushing the offense after defensive rebounds. The All-Star hopeful finished with 15 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, logging his third straight double double on Indiana’s five-game road trip.
Anyone would believe Los Angeles had this game in the bag when they realized Paul George, Indiana’s superstar, had one of his roughest shooting nights of the year.
George shot just 4-of-21 (although one was a half-court heave), and scored just 14 points. George and Stephenson were both goaded by their free throw shooting, as the two got 18 combined opportunities at the charity stripe and connected on just eight. Considering Indiana struggled significantly at the line by shooting 15-of-27 as a team, the Lakers were very fortunate they even had opportunities to cut into the deficit in the fourth.
Gasol discovered the best attack against Pacers’ David West and Ian Mahinmi, which turned into knocking down face-up jump shots and utilizing the footwork that makes him the most skilled big man in basketball. Gasol did experience an injury setback that will be addressed in the injury update section, but nonetheless, added to his streak of nine consecutive 20+ point outings by scoring 21 points. Also finishing with 13 rebounds and shooting 10-of-19 on Tuesday, Gasol has had a January that’s almost mirroring Kevin Durant. Alright, that’s a huge stretch, and widely inaccurate. But it’s still an impressive January for someone thousands of Lakers’ fans want back on the trading block. This month, Gasol has shot 50.9 percent from the field (117-of-230) and averaged 20.6 points and 12.1 rebounds. The problem all along? He didn’t have a point guard that loved to set him up properly.
The Lakers continue to struggle on the glass, and demonstrated one of the worst performances on Tuesday that certainly entitled them to their 12th home loss.
Indiana may not even be a top five rebounding unit (ranked 6th at 45.4 per game), but their efforts on the glass propelled them to new heights on Tuesday. Out-rebounding the Lakers 63-50 and receiving incredible effort from Stephenson in that department just went to show how far beyond this Pacers team is in terms of desire to win. Securing defensive boards is something Mike D’Antoni shouldn’t have to teach, it’s simply back to basketball 101 when your guys aren’t hustling and giving all they got. Perhaps the 17 offensive rebounds Los Angeles allowed Indiana to grab was enough open their eyes. And perhaps the Lakers wouldn’t have found themselves in a double digit hole in the fourth quarter, since they played acceptable initial defense. The initial stop means nothing, however, when the ball isn’t secured.
Lakers’ Jodie Meeks played with the highest energy (as he always does), but didn’t bring his shot back from Madison Square Garden. After scorching the Knicks from beyond the arc, Meeks cooled off and shot just 2-of-8 from deep on Tuesday, but did tie Gasol for the team-high 21 points. His backdoor cuts to the rim (D’Antoni’s specialty) and connection made with Marshall have been working against all defenses, and Meeks’ explosiveness to get out in the fastbreak is one of the only strong efforts that is consistent night in and night out.
Nick Young didn’t contribute how he would have liked, having his second bad night in a row scoring just 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting and 1-of-7 from 3-point range. Swaggy P realized quickly that he wouldn’t get any clean looks at the rim when Ian Mahinmi cleanly rejected him in the second half and left Young with a disheartening look. Even the team’s leading scorer is running into a slump.
Fans couldn’t have asked for a cleaner basketball game, regardless of the mental mistakes the Lakers made. Indiana actually kept their turnovers at a season minimum four giveaways, and it went to prove their maturity as a ball club. Often times when a superstar (George) struggles, they try to press the issue and turnovers result. Frank Vogel’s group is too disciplined, and their most monumental problem seemed to be fixed on Tuesday.
Lakers’ Injury Plague
In a season that the Lakers prayed wouldn’t come to the tanking question, it’s a definite inevitability at this point. Without the worst luck I’ve ever witnessed a team possess, and the nastiest injury plague in Lakers history, D’Antoni wouldn’t look down and find his team as the laughing stock in the loaded Western Conference.
To this date, the injured players on Los Angeles’ roster have missed a combined 148 games, and that’s worth taking a second (or even third) read. The latest injury news and updates were not in the category of good news by any means:
Kobe Bryant: The NBA’s fourth all-time leading scorer went through his doctor’s appointment on Tuesday afternoon and discovered that he would be OUT at least another three weeks. The only type of exercise he has been limited to is repeated stationary bicycle exercises. Bryant revealed that he still experienced pain in the left knee and even continued swelling. It would be three weeks until he is examined again by Dr. Steve Lombardo, but don’t jump the gun. It’s imperative to be reasonable, and understand that once he is cleared, it’ll take at least a week or two for Bryant to feel as if he’s in “game shape” and ready to hit the floor again. This season has truly been a lost year in his illustrious career.
Steve Nash: In a mysterious twist to the disappointing story of Nash, who hasn’t played a minute since Nov. 10 in a brief showing vs. Minnesota, he tweaked his back off the court this past weekend. It was the least opportune time for this minor setback, as Nash was scheduled to practice on Monday afternoon, but was forced to sit out due to the pain. The Lakers are extremely hopeful the near 40-year-old point guard will be able to practice on Thursday. However, he will NOT be available for Friday’s home game vs. Charlotte. Many argue the thought of Nash just disrupting the speed of the offense and being a defensive liability, but must understand that the organizational impact he’ll bring to the lineup should outshine the negatives. Kendall Marshall does a fine job, but it will stop the large minute load he has had to carry since January.
Steve Blake: Blake appears to be relatively close to returning, and a sigh of relief swarmed through the Lakers upon the latest sight. He has been able to shoot the ball at practice with his right hand, which is the same arm and elbow that he tore ligaments in at the beginning of December. Blake has NOT been cleared for full contact practices yet, but has been cleared by doctors to ramp up basketball activities. Another update will come at the end of week, and his presence has been missed substantially. Blake has missed 25 games since going down against Phoenix on Dec. 10, and his veteran decision making and perimeter shooting could very well help a team that only depends so much on the outside touch.
Jordan Farmar: After being told by team doctors that he could increase activity, Farmar hasn’t felt any pain in his torn hamstring, and it appears that he will be returning to full practice within another week. Getting out on the court and running some 5-on-5, he claims that he “doesn’t feel it,” and is glad that he was allowed time for it to heal fully this time around. Earlier in the year, Farmar experienced the same hamstring injury, but was back on the court much sooner. He will be OUT Friday vs. Charlotte. Another update is expected at the end of the week, and return looks promising for the early February mark that fans are possibly circling as the “end of disaster.”
Xavier Henry: Another MRI took place on Henry’s knee on Monday, and revealed no monumental change from his last update. He is still listed with a “bone bruise” and is yet to be cleared. He’ll be out until the doctors look him over next week, meaning he’ll probably see the floor later than we expect both Steve’s and Farmar to be back in uniform. The Lakers have missed his energy off the bench, and his aggressive paint penetrations. Henry is another double digit scorer that’s been sidelined, as he has averaged 10.1 points per game while playing 21.8 minutes per contest before going down.
Jodie Meeks: In less severe news, Meeks survived his MRI on Monday, which came back negative and didn’t show any damage on his foot that he tweaked on Sunday at New York. He was in uniform and looked very explosive in Tuesday’s game, so with him it’s just working through the soreness and not doing too much to injure the foot further.
Pau Gasol: In Tuesday’s loss, Gasol stayed in the locker room for a longer amount of time at halftime. According to Lakers’ reporter Mike Trudell, Gasol aggravated his groin in the first half. He engaged in extra stretches before returning to the floor, but still appeared to be bothered by the pain as he grimaced after offensive plays and looked to have a gingerly approach to his run. After the game, Gasol explained that he was unsure if it would require him missing time, and an update for his status for Friday’s game will come when he’s evaluated on Thursday.