Lakers Through 18 Games in 29 Days
The NBA season has been underway for 29 days, in which time the Lakers (10-8) have played 18 games, more than any other Western Conference team and tied with Chicago for the league's most.
Through some good wins and some tough losses, however, there hasn't been much outside of what may have been expected heading into the campaign.
Set aside the loss of Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown off the bench and Kobe Bryant's preseason tear of a wrist ligament; the most difficult adjustment for L.A. this season has been deprogramming years of running the triangle offense, and trying to run something new with only two weeks of training camps and, literally, not a single day of contact practice since the season began to do the lockout-shortened schedule.
During the team's current three game losing streak (at MIA, at ORL, vs. IND), L.A. has struggled to hit open shots even while creating those looks better than in previous weeks.
"We're really not shooting the ball well," explained Bryant, his team shooting 40.7 percent in its last three. "Our opposition is shooting the ball much better than we are, especially from three, and we need to knock some of those shots down."
Bryant was asked if the schedule could be affecting the team's field goal percentage.
"We've had a loaded schedule here to start, so hopefully that has something to do with our poor shooting," he continued. "Heavy legs, shots not going down and things like that. I think some of the guys just need time off, just to get their legs back. Sometimes you do too much, and it makes things harder for you, and I think we probably just need some rest."
Before a tough opening day loss to the Bulls (13-3) in a game L.A. controlled until the final minute – in some ways similar to Sunday evening's 98-96 Sunday loss to Indiana, L.A.'s only other home loss – new head coach Mike Brown cautioned that things weren't all going to click from Day 1, but has asked his players to do their best to ignore the circumstances of the season.
"He's consistent in his demeanor and what he's asking from us," said Derek Fisher. "That's not going to change or waiver in wins and losses ... we just have to continue to figure out a way to do a better job, even with a tough schedule, injuries, limited practice time or whatever it may be. We still have to figure out a way to win games."
Some variance of "It's going to take some time," especially on offense, was a repeated Brown comment throughout training camp and now into the season. Should L.A. have held on to beat Chicago and Indiana, would 12-6 look so much different from 10-8, despite only one road win? How much does it matter? For now, the Lakers may be more interested in figuring out how to get on the same page.
Fatigue, though an element for all teams, is more difficult on those without continuity of system and roster. In 2010-11, the Lakers took 37 days to play their 18th game, more than a week's extra time, when they had almost the exact same roster and the same system that had been run for years. As of last week, the 2011-12 version was still trying to get plays into the playbook, as was expected.
"We're still searching," said Brown prior to the road trip to South Florida. "Two days ago I put in three new plays, so I'm still trying to feel some things out with our guys, play wise, and then I changed our rotation with our second unit (against Dallas)."
Going into Miami and Orlando, two teams with near identical rosters from the season before and the same coaching staffs (meaning the same schemes) was not a good recipe for offensive success for a Lakers team that's still feeling things out on offense. L.A., in fact, has frequently had five-man groups on the floor that have never played together before. Finding a balance between feeding the man with the league's highest usage rate in Bryant, who scored 40 points in four consecutive games, and trying to get the ball inside while getting some kind of help off the bench has been laborious.
L.A. showed signs of figuring things out early against Indiana, scoring efficiently throughout a 27-14 first quarter while keeping up the consistent defense. But the subsequent letdown wasn't something that Brown was going to dismiss to fatigue, lack of knowledge of the new system or anything but simple effort.
"(Indiana) out worked us as a team and it’s too bad because we came out and we played great defense in the first quarter, and then the last three quarters we didn’t play with a sense of urgency," Brown explained. "It was almost like when we got up 12 or 13 in the first quarter, we thought Indiana would fold to a certain degree and we just kind of went through the motions … that part was disappointing to see.
"We haven’t been like that in a while and that’s what makes this game, more than any other game, tough to swallow because of our demeanor on the defensive floor. And then you talk about 50/50 balls, long rebounds, loose balls, Indiana got most of them … And it’s too bad because offensively I thought we did some nice things."
That's the kind of quote we saw after the Lakers let down in various (and rare) home losses in the past several years, when the problem wasn't execution on offense, strength of the defense or problems with the roster, but allowing an opponent to build confidence towards a comeback win.
Bryant, Gasol and Bynum are going to be there for L.A., and while a consistent perimeter bench scorer — Metta World Peace offered 11 points agains the Pacers but has been anything but consistent — would certainly help, the roster is more than capable on D, still ranking third in the NBA in field goal defense.
This coming week could help. L.A. has only one game (Wednesday vs. the Clippers) in the next four days, offering a brief respite both physically and mentally before the team embarks on two-week stretch in which only one of nine games is in Los Angeles.
But first, on Monday, comes something that Brown and Bryant agreed the Lakers needed more than anything else: a day off.