Lakers Are Flat Out of This One
The Lakers lost big on a Sunday night when Kobe Bryant was unremarkable, when Phil Jackson accused them all of not playing hard enough for long enough, and when Ray Allen ran them all into the ground again.
The Lakers lost big and said they were unconcerned, Shaquille O’Neal so much so that he left without addressing the media, Bryant after admitting he’s lost his consistently aggressive game trying to fit it around O’Neal, Jackson finally allowing, “The fatigue of the season has kind of salted away our resolve.”
On to the playoffs!
The Seattle SuperSonics, as crisp as the Lakers were defensively vacant, won, 119-98, at KeyArena, establishing Laker opponent highs for scoring and field-goal percentage (56.6%). Allen, freed by screens that ran Bryant ragged, scored 32 points. Rashard Lewis scored 24.
Though O’Neal scored 34 on 11-for-12 shooting, Bryant appeared flat 48 hours after scoring 55 points in a signature game against the Washington Wizards. He took five shots in the first half and missed four. He did not attempt a free throw for the first time this season.
“It’s tough to go from one extreme to the other,” said Bryant, who scored 14 points on 13 attempts, eight with the game out of hand. “It’s very challenging. I’ll get it done. I’m more than willing to give myself up, to get everybody involved in the game.”
He tirelessly chased Allen but was largely uninvolved in the offense. There would appear to be a subtle balance between running the offense through O’Neal and standing around watching O’Neal, a point made by Jackson.
“I don’t know what was going on with Kobe,” he said. “Have no idea. I called some things for him, worked with him.... He looked like until the second half he wasn’t getting going.”
Bryant, who flourished for five weeks when Jackson requested him to be more aggressive on offense, said Jackson cannot now assume that a support role is so easily resumed.
“He doesn’t know,” Bryant said. “He’s never had to do it before. None of his players had to do it before.”
All of which had very little to do with the Lakers allowing 119 points, other than no one looking particularly involved on either end of the floor, though Jackson hissed at them during timeouts.
As the deficit grew, Jackson crossed his arms, massaged the corner of his eye. Jim Cleamons, to his right, was in charge the last time the Lakers were here and lost by 17, almost as dismally, a legless effort that brought Jackson rushing back from his kidney-stone ailment.
If they are to again be a dynamic basketball team, it appears it will be in the postseason, or not at all. They’ll play tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies, still fending off teams from below, still giving away games to teams ahead.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, in the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings, had lost by 24 to Dallas earlier in the afternoon, their 29th loss. The Utah Jazz, in the sixth spot, had lost the day before in San Antonio, its 30th loss. The Portland Trail Blazers have 27 losses.
The Lakers, 42-31 and with nine games remaining, have a chance to make the playoffs easier on themselves, have a chance to play somewhere other than Sacramento, San Antonio or Dallas in the first round, and potentially all of them on the way out of the conference playoffs.
Being seeded fourth or fifth likely would mean a first-round series against Portland, Minnesota or Utah, depending on how the final 2 1/2 weeks play out.
Instead, their 73rd game was terribly flawed, and ended with Bryant staring straight out from the bench, O’Neal not far away, doing the same. Peja Drobnjak was on his way to 20 points. Brent Barry was a rebound from a triple-double. The SuperSonics made 10 of 23 three-pointers and led, once, by 28 points.
“We’d just have one thing happen and quit,” Jackson said. “We’d just quit out there on the floor. Screen-and-roll, they’d get screened and they’d just quit, just stop playing.... It was [the SuperSonics’] second effort that won the game for them in those situations, particularly in the second quarter.”
So, when it became clear the Lakers were content to score with the SuperSonics, only O’Neal would score, not Bryant.
“I don’t know,” Jackson said. “I have absolutely no idea. I guess you’d have to say Ray Allen played some good defense on him.”