The Los Angeles Lakers fell to the Phoenix Suns 114-108 Tuesday night, their second straight loss since Kobe Bryant returned from an Achilles injury Sunday. The Lakers allowed the Suns to shoot over 50% and grab 43 rebounds, 10 on the offensive end. While the game was certainly an improvement for Kobe, who had 20 points on 6-11 shooting, there were still clear chemistry issues as the team adjusts to having the 16-year veteran back on the team.
The Lakers trailed the entire game, as they simply could not contain the Suns’ explosive guard duo of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Bledsoe and Dragic scored a combined 49 points and baffled the Lakers defense with their blinding quickness and efficiency around the rim. The Purple and Gold could have perhaps weathered the attack from Bledsoe and Dragic, but the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus, poured in 37 points of their own, on 16 of 23 shooting. Los Angeles was able to cut the deficit, which stretched as large as 15, to one numerous times, but simply could not withstand the Suns’ counterattack. Here are some of my thoughts:
The Lakers defense was horrendous. Los Angeles played horrible all-round defense last night. They gave up numerous transition points to Bledsoe and Dragic and failed to grab big rebounds in the fourth quarter, which gave Phoenix more possessions, and ultimately, more points. The presence of the ailing Pau Gasol, and Jordan Hill (normally a dependable and energetic big man) was never felt throughout the game, as the Suns were able to consistently penetrate the paint.
Kobe’s defense was worse. Kobe put on an admirable offensive performance, making some of his trademark step-back jumpers and finishing with a team-high 20 points. He was even able to record his first in-game dunk since his return to action. However, he was a severe minus on the defensive end. I realized this in the first quarter, when Eric Bledsoe led a fast break, moving so quickly that he beat all defenders except Kobe, who had leaked out at the end of the Lakers’ offensive possession. Bryant seemed hesitant to challenge Bledsoe at the rim, instead opting to take a charge (which he did very half-heartedly) inside the restricted area. It made Kobe look very old and was a sobering reality check for all the Laker fans who thought we would see a normal, spry Kobe. While it’ll take a couple of weeks for Kobe to gain chemistry with his teammates and find his niche in Mike D’Antoni’s offense, his defense will never be the same, that much is clear. This thought was reiterated in the second half, when one of the Morris twins backed Kobe down in the post, bullying his way to the low block, than stepping through him for an uncontested bank jumper. The old Mamba would have never let a player rise uncontested and wouldn’t have given in so easily to a post up.
Steve Blake returned to his normal ways. This was a plus in my eyes. It was announced by the TWC broadcast crew that Blake was battling a very painful elbow injury. It looked as if his shot was off and he only took seven on the night. However, I was pleased to see that he led most of the Lakers’ offensive possessions on the floor and recorded 10 assists. Blake has done an excellent job as the primary ball handler for this Lakers team and good things usually happen when he is allowed to create for other players. He has a wonderful connection with Wesley Johnson and loves the backdoor cut. Not a single game has passed without seeing Blake throw a backdoor pass to a streaking cutter. I hope he continues to run Los Angeles’ offense.
The rest of the notable Lakers: Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Nick Young, and Gasol all made decent contributions to the game, but failed collectively as a unit on the defensive end. Jodie made some great ‘and-one’ plays in the first quarter and helped the Lakers make a comeback each time they were down by 10 or more. Henry and Young were victimized by themselves, as they ball-watched a lot and allowed their man to slip past them unnoticed. Bledsoe’s nine assists came almost exclusively on passes to players who had snuck past their man. Los Angeles is now 10-11 and face Western Conference behemoths, the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night. My hopes aren’t too high for this game, the Thunder are a well-oiled unit with a good point guard in Russell Westbrook, a position they have historically struggled to defend.