Los Angeles Lakers: A 5-Game Losing Streak Is No Way to Head into the Playoffs

Victoria SterlingCorrespondent IApril 11, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 05:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers controls the ball against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center on April 5, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Jazz won 86-85.  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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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"Five-game losing streak"

"I'll take 'phrases you never want to hear associated with your team' for $50, Alex."

Ugh.  I just re-watched that Oklahoma City-Los Angeles game (Yes, I am a glutton for punishment).  Remember a couple of months ago when I said OKC would be terrifying if they ever learned how to close?  Well, guess what? They've learned how to close. 

Maybe it's the addition of Kendrick Perkins.  Maybe it's maturing as a team, but they are scary good.   It feels wrong to say this, but the Lakers hung with OKC for the first 45 minutes last night rather than the other way around.

And then the turnovers spiked, LA looked tired and the shots kept dropping for the Thunder.  

Game over. 

I went back and forth about writing today. I like to write summaries of three or four game stretches for basketball. It's easier to discern patterns that way. Generally speaking I don't like to write one game at a time, day after analysis. If the Lakers win, it can come off as triumphalist. If they lose, it can come off as shrill and panicky. 

Guess what? I'm shrill and panicky. 

Actually, I wrote that after the Golden State loss.  Well, now I have my multi-game sample. Careful what you wish for.

Lakers? What in the world is happening? I know I said I would be okay with you going four and one, or three and two the rest of the way, but I did not see five losses in a row coming.  

And now your No. 2 seed is anything but assured.  Ditto your opening round opponent.  

That was an awful loss against Oklahoma City last night. A hundred times I've said that for these young players you are facing (even on non-playoff teams), they view this as their Super Bowl moment. Your entire team is filled with hyper-competitive guys. Of course these young bucks want to step to you.

With all my heart, I hope this is a blip on the radar and the Lakers are holding their energy in reserve for the postseason.

But the problems are glaring: the bench can’t hold a lead.  You've been phoning it in on defense and nobody has a hot hand right now.  Anything not clear?  

I mean seriously bench, the starters again handed you a double-digit lead in the Golden State loss and it evaporated almost instantly. Bench? Your job is to protect it while the starters get some rest. I don't care about your dunks, or highlight reel shots. Protect. The. Lead.

The only good thing to come out of this losing streak is that Mamba is furious. I’d hate to be at practice the next few days. There is going to have to be some accountability.

I’m glad the cameras caught Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson walking back to the locker room after the Golden State game. Those two better have a plan because if I were scouting the Lakers, I’d say that the second they pull Kobe to rest, I’d put in my best shooter and track meet it up and down the floor since the bench is apparently unable to play defense. 

So looking back on this bad streak, what can we say?  Well one thing that is killing you Lakers is turnovers. Against Denver: 20. Against Utah: 19. Against Golden State: 17. I can’t wait for the final game of the season when they only turn it over 14 times. I only say that with a slight bit of sarcasm.

As if to prove my point, the Lakers kept the turnovers to a minimum against OKC and stayed competitive.  What happened in the last three minutes? The Lakers turned the ball over.  

The other thing is, Phil needs to fix the issue of tempo. Especially with the bench which has a tendency to get a little wild when most of the starters are out. The Lakers MUST control it. Even if that means early time outs. They have a consistent problem lately that when they get down by double digits—they get sucked into the other team’s transition game, start throwing up desperation bricks and then the other team gets the rebound, takes off back down the court and the Lakers don’t have time to come back and set their defense.

Kobe and Derek Fisher know how to reset the tempo.  Everyone else needs to learn that.  

When the Lakers set their half-court and play smart triangle basketball with plenty of ball movement and, when EVERY SINGLE MAN plays defense, they are unbeatable. But the issue with speed of other teams has been exposed and every contender will try to exploit it.

The answer is the Lakers have to slow things down. They really don’t have any other option if they want to win. Kobe can’t score 50 points a night or they will double team him to death and it doesn’t seem like anybody else has a hot hand right now.

The only other good thing to come from this is that it is a very serious reality check for the Lakers.  The West is really good.  Everyone wants to take down the defending champs.  

You are going to have to earn this, gentlemen.