After back-to-back victories over the New Orleans Hornets and the Philadelphia 76ers, the Los Angeles Lakers looked as though they had regained some of the edge that propelled them to eight straight wins to start the season. But on Sunday night, the Memphis Grizzlies gave the defending champs a rude reality check and affirmed the thoughts of the L.A. faithful: the Purple & Gold have a lot of work to do if they want to secure that coveted “three-peat.”
Behind a strong performance by star forwards Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, the Grizz embarrassed the Lakers in front of a shocked audience at Staples Center. The following numbers can explain tonight’s disappointing performance:
0 – The number of free-throw attempts by Pau Gasol. It was the first time this season that Gasol did not reach the charity stripe in a game. The fact that one of the game’s elite power forwards does not reach the free-throw line over the course of an entire game leaves me speechless. This means a couple of things; first, Pau is not getting enough touches, which is completely true. The Lakers tried to go to Pau early (had three early post-ups and three early buckets), but went away from that after the first quarter. For the fourth time in the past five games, Pau ended a game with less than 10 shot attempts. And second, Pau is not attacking the basket aggressively, which is evident when you watch him play as of late.
5 – The number of blocks by Andrew Bynum. The big man continued his solid play by being a force on the defensive side of the ball versus the Grizzlies. Not only did he swat five shots, but he altered many more. Bynum was the one bright spot for the Lakers tonight; he scored 9 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and had the aforementioned 5 blocks. Interestingly, his blocks came in a variety of ways; he got one block after stepping out to challenge a Mike Conley, Jr., jump shot off a screen-and-roll; he got another rejection by running from the weak side to help Odom against a Marc Gasol jump hook from the post; and he blocked one Conley driving layup. He was all over the place on defense; a great sight for Lakers fans.
11 – The turnover differential between the Lakers and Grizzlies. Los Angeles turned the ball over a staggering 20 times; by contrast, Memphis protected the ball well and only surrendered 9 turnovers. The 20 Lakers turnovers was indicative of the Lakers’ sloppy, lifeless, and unmotivated play. Perhaps most shocking is the fact that the Grizzlies came off a tough road loss against the Jazz last night, yet they still looked more fresh (quicker, had more hustle) than the Lakers, who had the day off yesterday. Those 20 turnovers led to 18 points by the Grizzlies, who lead the NBA in forced turnovers and points off turnovers. If there was one area to which the Lakers had to pay extra attention, it was turnovers.
13 – The number of assists that the Lakers recorded. On the flip side, the Grizzlies had 30 on the night. This basically tells us that Memphis had better ball movement tonight. The Grizzlies consistently found the open shooter and played very unselfish basketball. Meanwhile, the Lakers did a lot of standing around and watching. The offense lacked movement and lacked any sort of rhythm. Perhaps most indicative of this is Kobe’s 17-point third quarter; while the spurt kept the Lakers in the game (somewhat), it really magnified the team’s recent problems. During that stretch, Kobe was on fire, but his teammates were only spectators. Which leads us to the next number…
22 – The number of shots attempted by Kobe Bryant. All you need to know is the following statistic given to me by a fellow Twitter member @SCrociata. The Lakers have played 34 games so far this season with a total record of 23-11. In those games, the team is only 8-9 when Kobe takes 20 or more shots, but they are 15-2 when Kobe takes 20 or fewer shots. That’s a 7-win difference. Numbers don’t lie. Basketball is the ultimate team sport and the Lakers win most/best when they play together within their trademark triangle offense.
27 – The number of points scored by Rudy Gay on 10-for-19 shooting. No matter who the Lakers threw at him–Ron Artest, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom–they just couldn’t stop him.
28 – Fast break points scored by the Grizzlies (the Lakers netted just 5). The difference in team speed (and energy) was mostly felt on fast breaks as Conley led his team up and down the court past Lakers defenders.
The Lakers are saying all the right things in their pre- and post-game interviews. Everyone from Kobe to Bynum is talking about team energy, focus, and togetherness. But when it comes to actually executing and backing up their words, the Lakers disappear. Fortunately, these next two weeks don’t present any ridiculously tough challenges for them; on Tuesday night, the Lakers host the Detroit Pistons, one of the league’s worst. But if we’ve learned anything during this dry spell, it’s that the Lakers are playing very, very poorly and cannot take any game for granted.