Subpar Lakers Shoot a 70
The Lakers left through a cold drizzle, having scored 70 points, having missed 60 shots, having been routed by one of the poor teams in a diluted league.
Shaquille O’Neal sat on the end of the bench. Rick Fox would be in Boston by this morning. And that had left Kobe Bryant, his string of triple-doubles, and handfuls of teammates who wouldn’t shoot straight.
The Lakers were 89-70 losers to the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night at Gund Arena, scoring an L.A. franchise low, by four points.
“Disgust,” Samaki Walker said on his way into the night. “There was no reason for us to go out and lose a game like that.”
Bryant had 15 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, that assist short of his third consecutive triple-double, though it wasn’t as if he didn’t try. Devean George missed 12 of 18 shots, Robert Horry missed six of seven, Tracy Murray missed five of six, and on and on.
They combined to make 31.8% of their shots, while the Cavaliers had Ricky Davis, who scored 24 points, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who scored 23 against the Laker centers, such as they are.
The momentum of two consecutive victories, of Bryant’s reliance upon them, of the chance to reach the end of O’Neal’s rehabilitation without going to pieces, was gone in a 10-point fourth quarter and a hail of long, wayward jumpers.
Bryant took one shot in the fourth quarter and four in the second half. Bidding to become the first Laker with three consecutive triple-doubles in 15 years, the first NBA player with as many in five, he continuously found teammates in perfect stride, in shooters’ rhythms, only to find himself chasing rebounds.
Afterward, Coach Phil Jackson told Bryant he should have scored more and Bryant didn’t disagree. Bryant had 13 attempts -- five fewer than George, one more than Walker, two more than Slava Medvedenko.
But, Bryant would not turn away from them. He would not take on the Cavaliers, one on three, even if Davis had compared defending Bryant to a “walk in the park” in the morning newspaper.
“I told you guys, that stuff doesn’t get my juices flowing anymore,” he said.
So he passed and he rebounded and, when he had to, when the shot clock flashed 5 and he had the basketball and everybody stared, he shot.
“It means a lot, because it shows them how much trust I have in them,” Bryant said. “I kept going to them. I kept feeding them. I kept telling them, ‘I know you guys are going to hit shots, and I’m going to keep coming to you.’ And I think that puts a little bit of pressure on them, to know that we’re in this together. I think it’s a huge responsibility for them.”
After shooting 31.8% in the season opener against San Antonio, the Lakers had started to find their touch. Then, against a defense that forced Bryant to carry the ball up the floor, then forced them all into perimeter shots, they trailed for the final 26 minutes.
LeBron James, the prep star from nearby Akron who almost surely will be the first overall draft pick in June, sat a few rows behind the Laker bench and mostly held his cell phone to his ear. He’s supposed to be the next Kobe. The current one is 24 years old, and he’s still finding a balance between doing his thing and having others do theirs, particularly when O’Neal is in a white pullover, not a purple and gold one.
Some nights it goes. Others, they score 70 points and he finds himself on the bench for the last couple of minutes, a towel over his legs, a hard frown on his face, life running through his head.
Asked to describe his thoughts, sitting there, O’Neal staring at him sympathetically, Bryant shook his head.
“I don’t know, just ... fuming,” he said. “I’m thinking about a little bit of everything. Thinking about why we lost. Upset that we lost. Upset that we didn’t make shots that we’re supposed to. Now, my attention turns to the next game.”
They trudged through a tunnel and into their bus, its exhaust white and damp. They’ll play Boston on Thursday night, Washington on Friday, and they’d just given away the easy one. O’Neal is eligible to come off the injured list before Thursday’s game, but he said Tuesday night he wouldn’t. The Lakers are 2-3 without him.
“It ain’t going to kill our spirits,” George said. “We’re going to keep fighting. But, this was a win we should have had.”
*--* Low Point The Lakers’ 70-point output Tuesday against Cleveland was the team’s lowest since 1960 when the franchise moved to Los Angeles Pts Opponent Date 70 Cleveland Nov. 5, 2002 74 Houston Nov. 11, 2000 74 Denver Feb. 3, 1995 74 Cleveland Dec. 19, 1990 Note: Lakers’ 31.8% (28-88) field-goal shooting Tuesday came close to franchise low of 31.2% (29-93) set in 1993 against Denver