LOS ANGELES — There’s one conclusion about the 2012-13 Lakers that is absolutely undeniable: No one —themselves included — knows which Laker team is going to show up on a night-to-night basis. Once again under .500, the Lakers’ 7-8 record is conclusive proof.
Saturday night in Dallas they looked as good as any team in the NBA, crushing the Mavericks by 26. Tuesday night in the supposedly friendly climes of Staples Center, the Lakers were absolutely horrible in losing to Indiana 79-77. The Pacers weren’t very good, either, but one of the teams had to win, and Indiana did it on a game-winning layup by George Hill with 0.01 seconds left. Ballgame over. Laker turmoil starting over again.
“It’s hard to win a game when you miss 20 foul shots,” said head coach Mike D’Antoni, shaking his head in disbelief — the sluggish Lakers were 23 of 43 from the line and also committed 21 turnovers. “That was ugly. But until Steve (Nash) gets back, we’re going to have to dig deep and win some of these ugly games. When Steve is running things, a lot of this will go away.”
He’d better hope something changes, because even with flu-ridden Kobe Bryant scoring 40 points for the 114th time in his career — ranks third all time — the rest of the team was able to account for just 37. And Nash can’t help his teammates make free throws, which was the true difference in the outcome. They missed all five freebies down the stretch, with Metta World Peace and Dwight Howard clanking two each within one second of each other.
Despite his high scoring game, which included a 3-pointer that tied it at 77 with 24.5 seconds left, Bryant completed an odd triple-double with 10 rebounds and 10 of the Lakers 21 turnovers. He wasn’t the least bit hesitant to put the blame on his shoulders, the same shoulders on which he tried to carry his teammates for most of the game.
“I have to take care of my responsibilities,” said Bryant, who has become the Lakers de facto point guard since Nash fractured his leg last month. “I have to minimize my mistakes. Ten turnovers is way too many for me. It boggles my mind that I had 10 turnovers.
“My responsibility is to pick everybody up, and it doesn’t matter that we missed 20 free throws, we still could have won the game. The fact is, we had 10 possessions in which we didn’t get a look at the basket because I turned it over.
“I don’t go home and look at it and say ‘well, we missed 20 free throws and that’s why we lost the game.’ I look at my mistakes and try to correct those.”
On the positive side, LA did play good defense until Hill’s winning layup, holding the Pacers to 36.7 percent shooting and outrebounding them 56-50. So, in the midst of all the negativity, D’Antoni tried to accentuate the positive after the loss.
“I’m proud of the guys in the way they fought and that they still had a chance to win,” D’Antoni said. “It defies statistical logic. But the defense was good, and they played hard. But geez, offensively, that was not nice. That was a tough one.”
They get a chance for redemption Friday night at home against the Denver Nuggets.
1 — Scoring 40 points is a nice individual accomplishment, and with some past Laker teams a necessity for Bryant. But if he has to score 40 for this offense to win any game, LA could be in trouble. D’Antoni has made it clear since he was hired that when his offensive scheme is running at its best, many players will see their scoring averages go up significantly. However, one of the main positives of the offense is that it moves the ball quickly and provides multiple scoring opportunities on every possession. If the ball movement has to slow down so Bryant can be counted on to carry the load, it will defeat the purpose of D’Antoni’s plan and keep the score lower than it needs to be for the team to win.
2 — It was a pleasure to see the Lakers defense show up against the Pacers. This isn’t even a very good defensive team right now, but it can be if it plays with the same enthusiasm and precision that D’Antoni is counting on from his offense. It’s crucial for Howard to be the focus of the defensive effort inside and control the paint with blocks and intimidations. His teammates need to force the opposing player underneath where Howard will be waiting for him. “That’s the way I want to play,” Howard said Tuesday. “I want to dominate down low and block as many shots as I can. That’s how I look at my job. I don’t necessarily have to score a lot of points. I need to play great defense — a Bill Russell type of defense. That’s what wins championships.” Had Pau Gasol been able to slow Hill down a split second longer, Howard probably would have gotten to Hill’s shot — or at least changed the trajectory — and the game might have gone into overtime.
3 — It’s painful to watch D’Antoni coach the Lakers. Not because of the way the team is playing, but because of the tremendous amount of pain he must be in. It hasn’t even been a full month since he had total knee replacement surgery, and there he is, walking up and down the sidelines of an NBA game … also coaching practices and doing the media sessions. The players should look at their coach, watch him hobble in pain so he can help this team win a championship. It should be enough motivation for them to see what it means to be totally dedicated. Maybe it will prevent a repeat of the offensive implosion against Indiana Tuesday night.