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Lakers’ jet lag continues on the road

My night ended after 12 hours and 22 minutes in the middle seat of a packed international flight with way too much turbulence.

A kindly gentleman armed with the cure for flight discomfort, a detailed dissection of the psychology of the issue while the plane rocked back and forth like Star Tours, sat on one side. In the opposite seat, a nice woman snored like a grizzly bear in a cave. Two separate pairs of headphones broke, and the in-flight entertainment required three system resets for a necessary distraction to the trials and tribulations of travel. 

The saving grace, the Lakers played the Cavs in Cleveland. Home court advantage has so far escaped the young Cavs this season, posting a 2-6 record while dropping their last three games at the Quicken Arena. The ideal balm for a Laker team yearning for some traction on the road, Los Angeles limped into the game in desperate need of a win. With a trip into Madison Square Garden looming, D’Antoni’s Showtime 2 squad should have decimated the Cavs and found a way to create some momentum.

Instead, they stood around, missed shots, and watched Kobe go to work for 42 points. Suddenly, my night didn’t seem so bad.

The Showtime sequel played out the same old story. They fought in the first quarter, but couldn’t quite get over the hump. They dug out of a 6-point hole at the beginning of the second quarter, but hit the bench wall as CJ Miles engineered a personal 7-0 run to open up the lead with six minutes to go, 37-31. The Lakers responded by missing 10 shots and turning the ball over three times to trail 54-39 at the half. The Lakers didn’t see any daylight until the 4th quarter, fighting back from multiple 3rd quarter, 10-point deficits. Kob drilled a jumper for his 31st point, and Dwight kicked out a pass to Duhon for another jumper to cut the lead to two, 75-73.

This was as close as they would get.

Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, and Miles all chipped into to keep the Lakers at bay and highlight the glaring problems of balance in the Laker losses. Irving contributed 28, 11 dimes, and 6 boards in his first game back from a broken finger. Miles matched his backcourt mate with 28 of his own, and Varejao added 20, 9 boards, and 5 dimes of his own. Dwight managed 19 points and 20 rebounds and MWP scored 13, but on 5-12 shooting. The Lakers shot 41% from the field, mostly due to 20 missed threes. They fell back into the their old turnover habits, fumbling the ball away 19 times.

The absence of Nash and Pau, discussed ad nauseum, might sound like a typical excuse for a talented and hyped team not meeting its expectations, but each minute they aren’t on the court, a back up that isn’t expected to perform at the same level must fill the void.

Moving Jordan Hill into the starting lineup bolsters rebounding and defense. Hill pulled down 10 rebounds, splitting his total on both sides of the boards, but could only muster 2 points. The move should equate to better offensive minutes for Antawn Jamison. He can become more of a focus for the 2nd unit. Yet, he has struggled as of late with his shot because of a lack of easy looks to get him in rhythm. The bench cannot afford 9 points on 3-10 shooting, making only 1-6 from three. His success depends immensely on early layups, which the Lakers seem to forget from game to game. Chris Duhon can provide great scoring and assist numbers in measured minutes from the bench, but, as a starter, a point guard must put up those numbers every night. Against the Cavs, he made one jumper, dished out 2 assists, and gathered 3 rebounds. These low numbers, serviceable as a part-time player, don’t cut it for 33 minutes of play.

Consistency represents the difference between 38 minutes a night, each night, or 15 to 25 minutes, depending on if the player has it going. The bench players aren’t providing the impact they need to keep the Lakers in these close games because they are essentially playing out of position. The rotation of a basketball team relies solely on the balance of the players on the roster, how they mesh together on the court, and, especially, how they match up with their opponent.

Right now, the Lakers are a great big mess because their team doesn’t have the right people in the right place. It happened with Mike Brown and the Princeton offense, and now with D’Antoni and the fun and gun. Injuries and coaching changes stunt the growth of a team, but this issue is not a new one, so further adjustments need to be made. With each utterance of “when Nash gets back,” or “Nash wont be back for another two weeks,” patience for this team is wearing thin.

Maybe a game under the bright lights of the Big Apple, as opposed to a supposed “sure thing” against a lesser, upstart team, is just the type of motivation the Lakers need to right the ship. Otherwise, the edges of this expected storybook season might start to fray.

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