Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, No. 24, shot 9-for-31 in Wednesday's loss at the Washington Wizards, as many shots as the other four starters combined. / By Geoff Burke, US Presswire
WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) — As long as the Los Angeles Lakers continue to struggle on offense, there'll be external questions. But they're also starting to question themselves after losing Tuesday to the Detroit Pistons followed by Wednesday's meltdown against the Washington Wizards.
The Lakers (23-16), who blew a 21-point lead in the third quarter to the Wizards one night after squandering a 12-point advantage in the second quarter to the Pistons, are playing at the Western Conference-rising Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.
Another loss would equal the Lakers' longest losing streak of the season.
"It's hard to explain. … It's hurtful right now," says Lakers forward Pau Gasol, who has been distracted by being on the trading block since preseason. "It's a little bit embarrassing with the kind of talent we have … to go out and not give full effort and do the things we supposed to do. It's hard to see.
"We want to play 100 percent every game, value every team the same way. It doesn't seem that we're doing that right now. It's a shame because it's costing us games. It's not helping the vibe."
From Jan. 19-22, the Lakers fell to the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers, all playoff-caliber teams. That came during a 13-game stretch of the Lakers failing to score 100 points or more.
They are averaging 94 points — their lowest output since the franchise relocated to Los Angeles in 1960 and lowest since the 1954-55 season when they were in Minneapolis.
There are five new players on the roster, and the Lakers traded 6-10 forward Lamar Odom, 2011 Sixth Man of the Year (14.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3.0 apg), before the season. They effectively replaced him with the free-agent signing of 6-11 forward Troy Murphy (3.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.1 apg).
"We have a very small margin for error," says Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who went 8-for-26 and 9-for-31 in his last two games. His 31 shots tied the attempts for Los Angeles' other four starters combined.
Lakers coach Mike Brown isn't happy with his team's decision-making and pointed to Bryant's shot selection in the second half against Washington as a key turning point. Bryant went 3-for-18 in the half and many misses led to long rebounds that ignited the Wizards' fast break.
"Guys are getting the ball and they're holding it, whether it's guys in the post, guys at the elbow (of the lane), guys at the perimeter. We're holding the basketball too long and we're not moving the ball," Brown says.
"We don't have a ton of breakdown guys. … We have to execute. We have to play inside-out. We have to have ball reversal. We have to have body movement. If we don't we'll get bogged down and stagnant and it looks ugly. As you could see if we're not careful and we take bad shots, we can get beat down the floor."
Brown spent three years as an assistant coach with the Spurs under Gregg Popovich, who has won four NBA championships since 1999 with Brown part of the 2003 title team, and runs a motion strong/motion weak offense similar to the Spurs'.
The Spurs (26-12), however, have better three-point shooters, such as Richard Jefferson (43.8%), Manu Ginobili (47.6%), Gary Neal (39.1%) and Matt Bonner (46.2%), to be more effective.
The Lakers have 7-footers Gasol and Andrew Bynum, but the lack of long-range shooters has made them easier to double-team in the low post. In his seventh season, Bynum is averaging a career-high 2.4 turnovers.
The chief supporting cast of Murphy, Derek Fisher, Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, Andrew Goudelock and Metta World Peace have combined for 133-for-421 three-point shooting (31.5%). As a team, the Lakers shoot 30%, last in the NBA.
That perimeter depth gradually eroded when Radmanovic was traded during that season to the Charlotte Bobcats. Farmar left as free agent to the New Jersey Nets before last season and Vujacic was traded to the Nets during last season. Another key component, shooting guard Shannon Brown, who flourished in the open court, left as a free agent after 2010-11 and plays for the Phoenix Suns.
Another issue for the Lakers has been going on the road. At home, they're 17-2 (tied with the Miami Heat for second-best in NBA). The Lakers are just 6-14 (30%) on the road, the worst percentage among the 16 teams currently in the playoff picture.
"Our mind-set right now to play on the road is not what it should be. We have to figure out how we're going to play on the road without the home crowd giving us energy," Brown said.
Barnes took it a step further. "To win in the playoffs, to win a championship, you have to win on the road," he said. "That's something we're capable of but it's yet to be proven."
With the trade deadline next Thursday, the Lakers' key concern will be finding more scoring. They weren't able to land free-agent shooting guard J.R. Smith, who signed with the New York Knicks last month. General manager Mitch Kupchak was on a scouting trip Thursday and wasn't available for comment.
The Lakers only have Bryant, Gasol and Bynum averaging in double figures in scoring. Compared to other teams in the playoff picture, the Philadelphia 76ers have six; the Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies, Orlando Magic and Timberwolves have five and the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers and Heat have four.
The two anomalies are the Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder, who also have just three. But their role players are more productive. The Spurs, the league's fourth-best scoring offense at 99.5 points per game, have four players who average from 9.1 to 9.6 points; the Thunder, the No. 3 offense at 102.3 points per game, have depth with six players averaging from 4 to 8.5 points.
Brown believes that trust among his players will show immediate gains in the offense as they'll take better shots and engage in less one-on-one play.
"We're making the game harder than what it is," he said. "If we keep the game simple and play it the way we know how on both ends of the floor we'll be fine. But right now we're all on different pages when we get the ball individually and it's showing in our team play."