The Los Angeles Lakers lost their third straight game on Tuesday night, falling 98-96 on the road to the Memphis Grizzlies. The loss comes after a 95-92 home loss to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday and a 102-96 road loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday. Mike Conley lit up the Lakers for 28 points, and Kobe Bryant struggled through a 9-25 shooting game in the loss.
At 13-5, the Lakers are still good, but they've dropped to fourth place in the Western Conference after a sizzling start to the season. So what's wrong? Is there reason for Lakers fans to freak out?
It's important to note that the Lakers have been through swoons like this before. Last season, they finished just 16-14 after the all-star break and still won the NBA title. But as we noted here, the problems the Lakers are facing are the same kinds of problems they have faced before.
SB Nation's Lakers blog Silver Screen and Roll elaborates:
The Lakers looked decent in the first quarter, only to slump in the middle periods as their opponent built up a double-digit lead. The offense again went through long, excruciating stretches of stagnant play. An opposing point guard again was allowed to control the game. Again the Lakers made a late charge that stalled out when offensive execution failed in crunch time. And again their star seven-foot center watched it all in street clothes.
I didn't like this movie the first time I saw it. On second viewing I hate it even more.
Bryant is at the center of it all, for better or worse. The question remains: does Bryant hurt his team's rhythm by shooting so much, or is he shooting so much because his teammates aren't doing their jobs? Forum Blue and Gold,another Lakers blog, leans to the latter explanation.
Against the Grizz the Lakers would forego running their offense to instead run isolation sets where nearly every other Laker stood around watching his mate with the ball try to score one on one. Mind you this approach will work just fine when the offensive player is making shots. But in those cases it really just masks the fact that the execution isn't quite right. But on nights like tonight where Kobe is struggling to knock down jumpers (9-25 from the field, 1-6 from behind the arc) and Gasol isn't his normal efficient self either (5-13 from the field), the Lakers need to do a better job of executing their sets by hitting the open man on time, setting hard screens, and cutting hard. In essence, they need to to a better job of helping each other because the tactic of attacking man up just isn't working. And tonight against the Grizzlies, that one on one approach only led to forced jumpers where players looked for the individual talent of their guys to bail out the team rather than working together to get the types of shots that are usually going to be more efficient.
On the flip side, as we discussed here, Bryant didn't exactly help matters by ending six of the Lakers' first eight possessions. So, you can go either way with this.
The defensive problems are more obvious. The slow pace obscured just how poor the Lakers' defense was in this game. The Lakers allowed Memphis to shoot 49 percent from the field and only forced seven Grizzlies turnovers. Against the Jazz, another team with an excellent point guard, the Lakers allowed 113.3 points per 100 possessions. The age-old problem of stopping quick point guards has resurfaced, and will continue to be an issue in the playoffs, where they'll likely have to face guys like Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams.
But it's still early. The Lakers have plenty of time to figure things out and get back to their winning ways.