Denver Nuggets Rally To Deal L.A. Lakers First Loss, 118-112
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It was only a matter of time before the Lakers lost their first game and when you consider they way they have been playing over their previous four, this one was a long time coming. Over the last week, the Lakers struggled to beat Toronto at home, blew out the Blazers with a hobbled Brandon Roy, narrowly escaped with a home win over the lowly Timberwolves, and finally got what they deserved in Denver last night, blowing a 14 point lead to fall to the Nuggets 118-112. The loss should come as a surprise to no one as the Lakers have been going through the motions for awhile now, appearing disinterested and lackadaisical. At the same time, this should concern no one considering the two time defending champs are fully aware of when it becomes time to turn it up a notch and start peaking both physically and mentally. That time is in April and we have a LONG way to go folks. There is nothing wrong with an 8-1 start out of the gates, if you want to talk about "pace", simply multiply this 9 game mini-season by 9 and you come up with 72-9. That's right, the Lakers are currently on pace to win 72.9 games after last night's loss. Now we all know they have no desire to over extend themselves trying to break the regular season wins record, they will win just enough games to lock up home court advantage throughout the playoffs...somewhere in the 65-67 win range.
For those of you that watched last night's performance, I think a few things stood out. First, what was wrong with Pau Gasol? His 17 points (6-17 from the field) and 20 rebounds may look good in the box score, but that was close to his worst performance in the purple and gold. He was particularly awful in the fourth quarter with multiple turnovers and some very bizarre inside moves where the ball literally did not come out of his hand when attempting a shot. He had a very dazed look on his face the entire night and showed little emotion...something was not right and I'll leave it at that. Another thing that really stood out was Kobe trying to do too much for the first time all year. He should know by know (and I'm sure he is well aware of the fact) that the Lakers are so much better when he takes less than 20 shots. Last night he was 11-32 from the field for 34 points resulting in a miserable 1.06 points per shot. He was 3-10 on three point field goals and a very uncharacteristic 9-14 from the free throw line. An extremely poor performance from Kobe overall when you consider the standard he has set for himself . I will mention that he did become the youngest player in NBA history to score 26,000 points last night, beating Wilt Chamberlin by a little over a month.
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So what else happened last night? Let's just run through some numbers real quick, the Lakers shot just 41% from the field, 31% from 3, and 77% from the free throw line. I think it's pretty clear to see why they lost last night considering these are all well below their season averages. They are the number one offense in the league and came into the game leading the league in 3 point percentage (43.5%) before shooting 9 for 29 last night. Simply put, they shot way too many threes and needed to be a little closer to their season average to pull out a win on the road. On the positive side, they out rebounded the Nuggets 50-43 while only committing 8 turnovers. Usually good enough stats to win, but when you score 112 points and lose, it's not very difficult to figure out why. The Lakers have appeared disinterested in playing defense all season long and they now rank 17th in the league in points allowed. Kind of ironic considering they are fully aware that defense is THE reason why they call themselves the two time defending NBA champions.
Finally, let's talk about a few individual performances. Lamar Odom pulled his first disappearing act of the season, playing only 25 minutes and shooting 1-6 from the field for 3 points. However, Lamar's life long buddy from Queens Mr. Ron Artest had his best performance of the season scoring 18 points on 7-11 shooting. He also contributed 5 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists, and 2 steals. He was the best player on the floor for the Lakers last night which was a pleasant surprise considering his early struggles through the first 8 games. The second best player award from last night goes to Mr. Highlight himself, Shannon Brown. Brown contributed 19 points (7-14 from the field), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block in only 22 minutes of play. He led the way for the "Killer B's" as Steve Blake and Matt Barnes were largely ineffective. So what do we take away from all this? Not much, other than the fact that the Lakers needed to (and deserved to) lose a game to simply grab their attention. Now they can certainly count on some very physically demanding and defensive focused practices over the next two days before they host the Suns Sunday night at the Staples Center. When you are in the Lakers shoes, you are well aware of the fact that the real 2 month stretch of the season begins in April and when you are supremely talented to every team that you face, it's hard to get excited about games in November. That said, look for the Lakers to start up another winning streak Sunday night en route to a likely 25-4 start heading into their Christmas Day matchup with the currently 5-4 Miami Heat. Until then, expect Phil Jackson to poke and prod his players through the media in his constant attempts to get them to at least act like they care right now.
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