Slow and Low to Up Tempo

Jonathan Cha

Jonathan Cha writes about the Lakers thanks to the way Chick Hearn spoke on it. A fan since Magic first dumped it down low to Kareem for a swing left, shoot right skyhook in San Diego, he also contributes his thoughts on USC football to LA Sports Hub. Tweet him about it @chawonshik.

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Apologists all over the sports world, including this one, will point to a very simple fact as to why the Lakers looked lifeless Wednesday night in Sacramento.

Minutes played.

The Lakeshow entered a full off-season and training camp intent on walking, not running, the ball up the court. The LA brain trust decided that a deliberate motion offense would take advantage of two seven-footers and an aging All-Star off guard. The Princeton offense rarely draws raves for its proficiency in fast break points. Even with the addition of Dwight and Steve, the focus on ball movement and back picks remained steadfast over fast breaks and pick and rolls. The purpose was efficiency.

Granted, basketball players earn their reps and pay checks for their boundless energy, their amazing ability to shake off the fatigue from the night before and put on a fantastic show. However, most teams delve into their bench in either the first or second game of a back-to-back, since a plane ride and early morning arrival follows the final buzzer of the first game. As of now, the Lakers lack reliable depth.

Sans Nash and Blake due to injury, the Lakers play with a shortened bench, whose firepower can lack the necessary spark. The result, a home game versus the Brooklyn Nets requires 38 minutes from Kobe, Metta, and Pau, as well as 40 minutes from Dwight and his steadily healing back. The Lakers ran their new aerobic O and racked up fast break points in the debut of Showtime 2. The bench tallied about 60 of the 240 minutes in the game.

Fast-forward twelve hours to Wednesday night and a matchup with the upstart Kings, who ran all around the Lakers in the preseason while the Lakers attempted to master their ball control offense, in their building, a hostile environment to say the least. The fans might not clang their cowbells as feverishly as post-Y2K, but their booming chants of “Beat LA” still echo their ubiquitous passion to eliminate the memory of Bob Horry.

Pau and Dwight looked gassed. Not only because they managed just 15 points between them on 14 shots, but mainly because they stayed a step behind on defense as the Kings shot 54%, owning the paint to the tune of 50 points versus just 22. Although Sacto is no stranger to jump hooks and layups, ranking 3rd in PITP with 47 per game, the Lakers rank 7th at 44.4 per game, which is a difficult endeavor when Dwight shoots 2-4.

Not everyone is Kobe Bryant. His effervescence, coupled with a history of feasting on the state capitol’s team, can only account for so much of the offense, 38 points to be precise. Kobe and Jodie Meeks literally played a two-man game on offense, providing almost all of the scoring to end the 3rd and open the 4th quarter.

The back end of back-to-back fatigue, especially on the road in a hostile environment, usually manifests in the 3rd quarter. An 11-0 run capped by an Aaron Brooks 3 at the 2:11 mark evoked a Mike D timeout. Most likely preaching ball movement and energy, Kobe took it upon himself to drains three straight threes, the last a heat check off of a pick by Dwight. Kobe reverse pivots from dribbling to right back to the left, squares up, and swish! Fourteen points later, and the Lakers suddenly close the gap, 73-71.
Meeks heats up to start the 4th, scoring the first 12 points of the quarter for a 15-point night. Aside for a few other scratches to the scorebook, that represented the bulk of the bench production. The Kings decimated the Lakers subs 49-19, 23 coming from Marcus “the reincarnation of Sleepy Floyd” Thornton, including a key 3 at the 2:46 mark of the 4th to hold off the Lakers last legitimate run.

Even Stu Lantz scoffed at the fatigue excuse, but after almost 80 minutes of basketball in two nights against teams that will push the ball regardless of the opponent’s offensive or defensive strategy, the issue cannot be ignored. The starters, regardless of any stamina gained from sustained exposure to the D’Antoni offense, need help from the bench. They provided around 55 minutes, but their time lacked efficiency in spelling the first five. Of the 20 turnovers in the game, the starters accounted for 18 of them. Fatigue leads to poor decision-making and slower response time, which ultimately translates into L’s on the second night of a back-to-back.

Although tryptophan can assume the blame for halftime naps and snoring through parade coverage, Thanksgiving turkeys won’t grace tables until Thursday. Let’s wish the Lakers a nice day of rest because Friday’s trip to Memphis will include even more heaping servings of running and gunning.

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