From the game's inception, it was clear that the Lakers had no intention of asserting their dominance as the NBA powerhouse they are supposed to be.
Los Angeles fell behind early thanks in large part to a matador-esque defensive effort. Or, as Mike Prada of SB Nation put it, thanks to a "classic" Antawn Jamison-like defensive effort:
Classic Antawn Jamison defense letting Kanter go right to the baseline. twitpic.com/bknivf— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) December 10, 2012
In fact, the Lakers' efforts were so lackluster early that according to ESPN's J.A. Adande, they only had the edge in an immeasurable statistical department:
Only stat in Lakers' favor right now is SODA (Shots Over Dwight's Arms). Jazz 1-4. But Utah still leads, 16-14— J.A. Adande (@jadande) December 10, 2012
It didn't get much better for Kobe Bryant and company heading into halftime, either. They headed into the locker room trailing by nine to a streaking Jazz team, leaving the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina no choice but to diagnose one of the team's obvious issues—Jordan Hill outscoring Bryant:
Lakers down 60-51 at halftime. Jordan Hill (13), not Kobe Bryant (10) is leading the team in points— Mark Medina (@MedinaLakersNBA) December 10, 2012
The first half wasn't all bad, though—not for the Jazz anyway. They shot an astounding 55 percent from the field. Somewhat surprisingly, per ESPN stats and info, that was the highest percentage Los Angeles' 15th-ranked defense allowed any team to shoot in the first half this season:
Lakers allowed Jazz to shoot 55% from field in first half-- highest that any team has shot vs Lakers in 1st half this season— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 10, 2012
Things didn't get much better heading into the second half, either. Though the Lakers managed to trim six points off the lead heading into the fourth, Bryant still wasn't a happy camper. As ESPN Los Angeles' Andy Kamenetzky notes, Kobe's death stare—or at least some version of it—seemed destined to make an appearance:
Kobe's about to give Darius a no-look death stare.AK— Kamenetzky Brothers (@KamBrothers) December 10, 2012
Almost on cue, the Lakers found themselves trailing by 11 in the fourth quarter. But as the optimist in Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register pointed out, while Los Angeles' defense had never performed worse, Mike D'Antoni's leg has never looked better:
On the bright side for Mike D'Antoni, he's definitely walking with far less of a limp. ... UTAH 102, LA 91.— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) December 10, 2012
D'Antoni's improved physical state wasn't enough to overshadow the fact that the 34-year-old Bryant was being overworked. The Black Mamba played the entire second half and fatigue was obviously a factor.
How much so? To the point where Kamenetzky admitted that Kobe could argue any foul called against him, because he was simply nowhere to be found defensively anyway:
I think Kobe's telling the ref, "I wasn't paying enough attention to Hayward to foul him." AK— Kamenetzky Brothers (@KamBrothers) December 10, 2012
If we're truly honest, though, as Mike Trudell of Lakers.com was, it wasn't just Bryant's lack of defense that was ugly, but also the failure of both he and Metta World Peace to grab a single rebound between the two of them:
Very rare that LAL get not a single combined rebound from Bryant and World Peace, & only 2 assists between 'em (both Kobe's).— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) December 10, 2012
Believe it or not, though, the going actually got even tougher for Los Angeles.
As the Lakers fell to 14 points in the hole with less than six minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Sportsnet's Holly MacKenzie drew a comparison between them and the dormant Toronto Raptors, a team no one thought Los Angeles would be mentioned in the same breath as:
Amazing how 9-11 record for the Lakers has everyone in LA panicking and players at a loss. Picturing Raps at 9-11… It'd feel like a party.— Holly MacKenzie (@stackmack) December 10, 2012
Despite such an underwhelming performance, the Lakers were able to claw their way back into the game. As Bleacher Report's own Ethan Strauss acknowledges, they had the Jazz to thank for that:
Game's not over. Jazz are arrogantly playing down to the level of their competition— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) December 10, 2012
Los Angeles' push ultimately fell short, however. Bryant rimmed out a three that would have cut Utah's lead to two, and after that, the Jazz were able to secure a 117-110 victory at the foul line.
More troubling than the loss itself and the Lakers' 9-12 record, however, is Mike Trudell clarifying how poorly they have performed away from home heading into the four-game road trip:
The Lakers are only 7-6 at home, and 2-6 on the road heading into a 4-game trip (at CLE, NYK, WAS & PHI).— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) December 10, 2012
To add further insult to injury, Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles noted that Los Angeles is seemingly at its worst when Bryant scores in excess:
Lakers lose 117-110 to fall to 9-12. Consistency? These guys don't know the meaning. Kobe scores 34, but L.A. now 1-9 when he goes for 30— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 10, 2012
Looking outside the stat lines, though, CBSSport.com's Matt Moore was able to say what we were all actually thinking:
That was not a good loss for the Lakers. San Antonio was. The rest have been crap.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 10, 2012
Brutal? Of course, but Moore's assessment was more informative than the vague picture D'Antoni painted immediately after the game:
D'Antoni on Lakers: "Um, we're not very good right now."— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) December 10, 2012
Never fear, though, right? After Steve Nash returns, everything should get better, shouldn't it?
Well, considering the Lakers' problem is defense at this point, Bill Walton's alter ego makes it clear his return could mean absolutely nothing—at the expense of Peyton Manning:
NBA scouts think Steve Nash will be great for Lakers, comparing him to Peyton Manning. Fair comparison, since neither plays defense.— Not Bill Walton (@NotBillWalton) December 9, 2012
If one good thing was to come from this loss, though, it was Chris Duhon's performance. He scored 12 points, dished out 11 assists and, as it turns out, the Lakers faithful are finally warming up to him, according to Matt Moore:
I will say I'm impressed that Lakers fans are telling me they'd rather have the open look from Duhon than contested from Kobe. Progress?— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 10, 2012
Duhon's stellar outing isn't going to be enough to wash away the reality that the sub .500 Lakers are currently facing, however.
Amid a bevy of shortcomings and bounty of question marks, Ben Golliver of BlazersEdge.com provides the most eloquent assessment of what Los Angeles' struggles mean right now:
Suns have lost seven straight and are only 2.5 games behind the Lakers— Ben Golliver (@blazersedge) December 10, 2012
Dave McMenamin doesn't help Los Angeles' case either, telling us that 17 of the 30 NBA teams now have a better record than the boys in purple and gold:
One way to sum up the Lakers' stumbling start: It's almost 6 weeks into the season & 17 of the 30 teams in the NBA have more wins than LAL— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 10, 2012
Brian Kamenetzky of ESPN Los Angeles also provides an astute analysis of where the Lakers stand after 21 games, bringing us the second NFL comparison of the night:
@mcten Another-- There are five teams in the AFC with as many or more wins than the Lakers. 3 more in the NFC. BK— Kamenetzky Brothers (@KamBrothers) December 10, 2012
Leave it to Kobe to ultimately present us with the big picture, though:
Kobe on Lakers: "The chemistry's not that bad. We're just not playing very well."— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) December 10, 2012
Let's hope that Bryant is right. Let's hope the Lakers' are just experiencing a turbulent stretch and not suffering from a permanent team dynamic.
Otherwise, it's going to be a long rest of the season in Los Angeles.