Los Angeles Lakers: Level of Concern For Defending Champions

Brandon Ribak@reebokforthreeSenior Writer IDecember 26, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 25:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Staples Center on December 25, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

All Kobe Bryant and the Lakers wanted for Christmas this year was a W.  Yet by the end of last night's 102-87 shellacking at the hands of Lebron and the Cavs, all they found in their stocking was a lump of coal—and a handful of questions.

Like me, most NBA fans thought that the Lakers were too powerful, too strong, and too experienced to lose to practically any team in the league—especially at home in the Staples Center.

And, just like me, most fans believed that the Lakers would come out and light up the Cavaliers simply for the spirit of Christmas.

Apparently that wasn't the case yesterday (sorry that the Lakers disappointed you on Christmas, little boys and girls).

One thing that separates the Lakers from the average team is their extreme height in frontcourt.  Their duo of seven-footers, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, tend to cause serious mismatch problems against most opponents.

Normally having a huge height advantage, Gasol can face off against most power-forwards in the NBA with success, hurting them with his excellent mid-range shooting ability, stellar rebounding, keen passing skills, and first-rate shot blocking. 

Aside from the two behemoths, the Lakers have arguably the best player in the game in Bryant—a rare form of athlete that can do anything and everything on the court, but most importantly, is able to keep his composure even when things looks bleak.

Lastly, the Lakers bench consists of 6'10" forward Lamar Odom who received a four-year $33 million deal last offseason. For a player making that kind of money, Odom is highly relied on to ignite a spark off the bench.

Yet, last night, the Lakers' frontcourt played like little school girls who were afraid of the big and bad bully (O'Neal).

The duo shot a combined 6-of-16 from the floor, (a whopping 37.5 percent), which was sadly a tad bit higher than the Lakers' overall shooting percentage (31-of-85 FG, 36.5%).

Aside from the horrible shooting night, the duo managed to pull down a combined 12 rebounds and block just one shot in a total of 64 minutes played.

Even more pathetic than Gasol and Bynum's soft performance was LA's virtually invisible bench.

Odom shot just 2-of-4 from the field for a grand total of six points, five rebounds, and two assists in 27 minutes of action.  Aside from Odom, the Lakers bench proved to be inconsistent and flat, getting out-scored by Cleveland's bench 31 to 17.

Most of all, the Cavaliers managed to somehow get inside of Bryant's head.

After scoring with 9:57 remaining on the clock in the third quarter (and only down by six), Bryant finished the rest of the 3rd quarter in a slump, hitting just 1-of-6 field goals, with one turnover and an offensive foul. 

Still rattled, Bryant then went on to receive a technical foul in the fourth quarter and ultimately ended the game shooting 34 percent from the field.

After such a horrific game for the defending champions, many questions and concerns arise.

Such as: Why do the Lakers struggle against teams with winning records? 

The Lakers five losses this season have come against the Mavericks, Nuggets, Rockets, Jazz, and now Cavaliers.

Those five teams each have a record above .500.

When taking an even closer look at the Lakers' success thus far, they have shockingly won 26 percent of their games by a total of three points or less.  More importantly, those six victories were won against the Bucks, Heat, Thunder (twice), Clippers, and Rockets.

Not too impressive.

So what does all of this mean?

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