LOS ANGELES — Going into Tuesday night’s game against the 76ers, the Lakers had won six of their past seven and looked like a team finally hitting its stride. And the Lakers put on a clinic against Philadelphia at Staples Center — a how-NOT-to-play-basketball clinic.
How not to play defense; how not to shoot three-pointers; how not to use your bigs; how not to pass the ball and how not to coach a basketball team. They did show how to lose a basketball game, though, falling to Philadelphia, 103-99. The Sixers (15-17) have been horrible on the road this season; their record away from home now sits at 5-10 after the win. The Lakers dropped under .500 again at 15-16, 10-11 under head coach Mike D’Antoni.
“I’m surprised, yeah,” D’Antoni said about the poor play and lack of effort Tuesday night. “After a three-day layoff I can see the first quarter (being sluggish), and we missed some easy shots — I can understand that. What I can’t understand is the second half and why we didn’t come out and take control of the game. It was just not a good night.”
Ya think, coach?
The Lakers’ non-existent defense allowed the Sixers to shoot 48 percent; on the season they shoot 44 percent per game. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol combined to go 3-for-19 from the field — Howard getting just seven field-goal attempts, making one and scoring seven points. He did have 14 rebounds and five blocked shots, but it wasn’t close enough to make a difference when his teammates took the night off on the defensive end of the floor.
“We just didn’t play together defensively,” Howard said. “And it’s very frustrating.
“When we win games we play one way, when we lose we play another. We have to find a balance. We just have to be patient.”
And maybe a pay more attention to the game plan or just have a little common sense on the floor. Like when you can’t come close to making a 3-point shot — stop shooting them. Instead, the Lakers launched 22 shots from behind the arc, missing 18.
Nothing very patient — or smart — about that.
Led by Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia collected 10 more assists than the Lakers — 27-17. The former UCLA point guard returned home and put together a stellar night: 26 points, 10 assists and two steals in 39 minutes. Small forward Evan Turner destroyed whoever half-heartedly tried to guard him, scoring 22 points, with 13 rebounds, five assists and a blocked shot.
Lakers’ point guard Steve Nash — who needs only 28 assists to join John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Mark Jackson and Magic Jackson as the only players in NBA history with 10,000 career assists — was visibly upset by another unexpected loss to a bad team.
“It’s really frustrating,” Nash said, “because at the end of the second quarter I felt we had a certain amount of control of the game. Then they went on a big run at the end of the half, and we never got a hold of the game after that.
“It was frustrating and confounding, because we had two good days of practice. I felt that energy was a little bit low, but we still played hard. It’s just unfortunate; the mistakes we made during that stretch make it really hard to overcome a team that had confidence.”
Something the Lakers have been missing — along with wins — for most of the season.
1. It’s tiring to hear the players and coach mutter the same worn-out clichés after every difficult loss. “We just have to stay patient” or “we didn’t play with enough energy.” And there’s the old stand-by: “It’s a long season, and we’ve got too much talent to keep playing like this. We’ll be fine.” Well, it’s not a long season anymore — it’s more than a third over and the team is still trying to find its identity and fortitude. And the lack of energy isn’t a reason anymore; it has become an excuse for a team that — with the exception of a few players — won’t make the commitment to play hard for 48 minutes or more every game. Especially defensively. This team can score, averaging 103 points per game — fifth best among the NBA’s 30 teams. But with the exception of Howard and Metta World Peace, most nights they can’t — or won’t — play defense with the intensity needed to win consistently. Until D’Antoni learns how to make this team respond when trying to stop its opponents, the Lakers continue going nowhere in a hurry.
2. Kobe Bryant was blunt when he assessed his team following the loss. “You just saw an old team,” Bryant said. “I don’t know how else to put it. We’re just slow, and we were stuck in the mud. We all have to figure out how to get ourselves ready each night to have a high-level game. When you’re starting to age it’s tough, and it takes a lot of commitment.” The Lakers have yet to show it in 2012-13.
3. For a team with four potential Hall of Famers — Kobe Bryant, Nash, Howard and Gasol — it’s incredible to realize that if the playoffs began today, the Lakers wouldn’t qualify. Their 15-16 record puts them in 10th place, two slots out of a Western Conference postseason berth.