Before the game started, many did not know what to expect from the Lakers this season. Having lost key players such as Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown, losing Andrew Bynum for the first four games of the season, and adding some new pieces such as Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy, Andrew Goudelock, Jason Kapono and Darius Morris, no one really knew how the team would perform. Throwing in Kobe Bryant’s sore wrist and two preseason losses to the Clippers only added to the uncertainty.
After a sluggish first half, the Lakers ended up pulling ahead of the Bulls, up by 11 points with less than four minutes to go. However, with a flurry of defense and quick scores by the Bulls, Chicago ended up winning by a single point via Derrick Rose’s game winning shot, 88-87.
Lakers fans went from thinking their team would pull off a Christmas miracle, given the circumstances, to a heartbreaking loss.
However, when one puts this game in perspective, there are many great signs for the Lakers team.
First, the absence of Andrew Bynum made a huge difference on both ends of the court. Without him (and without Lamar Odom coming in as a super sub), the Lakers lacked some much-needed size to defend the paint. Add Bynum to the mix and the Lakers probably win the game.
Second, after a lackluster first half defensive effort giving up 56 points, LA only allowed 32 second half points (and only 16 points in the first 20 minutes before Chicago went on its 16-4 game-winning run). It will take some time but Coach Mike Brown’s defensive philosophy will make a huge difference this season and will certainly help LA earn many victories. In fact, the defense the Lakers played in the second half was reminiscent of the kind the team played during its championship seasons.
Third, LA shot 4-16 from three-point territory. With the excellent shooters LA has on the team (Steve Blake, Goudelock, Kapono, Murphy and Derek Fisher) and with improved outside shooters like Pau Gasol and Devin Ebanks, LA should make about 35 to 38 percent of its three-pointers this season on most nights. In fact, many of the misses tonight were from wide-open looks. If LA had made one or two more of the three point attempts tonight, LA would have won the game.
Fourth, when the Bulls went on its late game run, both Gasol and McRoberts missed two free throws. This is highly uncharacteristic of each player. The team as a whole only shot 11-20 (55 percent) from the charity stripe for the game. If LA makes half of those four attempts by Gasol and McRoberts (a percent much below each player’s average), LA likely would have won the game.
Fifth, there were some questionable plays near the end of the game. With about 20 seconds left, Luol Deng was trapped by Bryant and McRoberts. Although video replays showed Deng simply lost his footing, the officials bailed him out with a foul call on Bryant and awarded Deng with two free throws.
After an ensuing timeout, the Lakers inbounded the ball to Kobe. Up by a point and with 20 seconds to go, all Kobe had to do was hold onto the ball (the Bulls would have had to foul him in order to get a chance to score again). However, Kobe panicked and tried to pass the ball to Gasol (whereby the ball was picked off by Chicago, leading to Rose’s game-winning shot). If either of these plays goes the Lakers' way, LA probably would have won the game.
Finally, several players showed they are bound to have significant contributions for the team this season. Devin Ebanks looks to be a solid starter, taking smart shots while providing tough defense for opponents.
McRoberts and Murphy should also be able to have decent seasons (together, they shot 6-11 from the field and pulled down 16 rebounds) as they try to replace Lamar Odom’s production. Andrew Goudelock showed he can be deadly from downtown and Steve Blake looks like he has more confidence in his shot. While Blake didn’t have the best shooting night, all signs point to him having a much better year than last season.
Overall, this game showed signs of promise for the Lakers team. While seeming confused on offense at times, Coach Brown’s plays are getting his players many open looks. With better outside shooters, improved play of several rotation guys, getting (an improved and healthy) Bynum back and dominating defense, the Lakers should still have a great season.
One has to be encouraged that the Lakers barely lost to one of the best teams in the NBA, despite so much going wrong tonight. There’s a lot that can happen over the course of a long season, and chances are good that there will be many positive surprises for Lakers fans.