Commentary

Room for Improvement

The Lakers 122-99 win over the Pacers might seem perfect, but L.A. could have played better

Updated: March 3, 2010, 3:05 AM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Any time Adam Morrison and DJ Mbenga combine to reach double-digit scoring there's plenty of reason to smile, but the Lakers still did enough things wrong in their 122-99 win over the Indiana Pacers to not be deliriously enthused after this one.

If it sounds as if I'm nitpicking, that's because I am.

Phil Jackson called Tuesday a "getaway game." Playing a struggling team like Indiana is a way for Jackson to gauge how the Lakers are playing in all areas. It's not solely about who wins.

Jackson said he wanted to see the Lakers "getting things right" so they were playing "the right way" as they embark on a three-game road trip against much better teams than the Pacers.

It's March and the Lakers have more than twice as many wins than the Pacers, so they're supposed to beat a team like that by 23, but as they enter the "nitty gritty" as Lamar Odom called it after the game, there's room for improvement.

Kobe Bryant's final line looked a lot better than his 3-for-17 shooting total Sunday that caused him to use the fiercest of all the four-letter words to describe his shooting stroke at Monday's practice, but his 24 points against Indy were padded by going 14-for-15 from the foul line. He was still just 2-for-9 on jump shots for the game. One of those made shots that beat the halftime buzzer might have gotten more friendly bounces on the rim than any shot in an NBA game since Troy Murphy's tip-in game winner against L.A. in Indiana last season.

"Kobe's still not shooting in the rhythm that he needs to shoot the ball well but he's looking like it's getting better," Jackson said.

Bryant had one 3-point attempt in the first quarter clank long off the back rim. He had another in the second half that he short-armed and barely made it to the basket.

Bryant said he couldn't remember the last time he got to the line that much and all of the attempts helped him find his stroke again.

"I'm not tripping [about it]," Bryant dismissed.

Still, Jackson said he's never seen a slump like this out of Bryant, so it's worth mentioning.

"I've not seen this before [from Bryant]," Jackson said. "I think the combination of his finger now coming back after being out and finding a release point [is the issue]. It's just one of those things that shooters go through, but I've never seen him go through this before."

While Bryant will try to make up for the 18 days he missed replacing hundreds and hundreds of jumpers with hours and hours of rehab on his left leg and knee, the Lakers will pack their bags trying to regain the reputation they established last year as the toughest road opponent in the league.

It's not just the challenge of the immediate three-game trip, but the fact that the Lakers play 11 out of their next 14 games outside of L.A., too.

"You know on the road it's a different style of play," Bryant said, "a different game entirely. We can't take the game we play here at home and take it on the road; we'll have to adjust a little bit. Keep your energy up, obviously keep the intensity up, but on the road you really have to execute."

Part of that execution is coming out of the gate with a greater focus. The Lakers trailed the Pacers by a point after the first quarter Tuesday. Denver led by nine at halftime Sunday.

"I have not been impressed with our last week or so in the first quarter," Jackson said. "I felt like we have not gotten off to good starts and not connected well when we play. That will come along and it is just a product of Kobe getting back into the lineup as well as a feel for getting back to the guard position."

Some times more effort means less control. The Lakers had eight turnovers in the first half against Indiana and 14 in the first half against Denver. For a team that averages just 13.4 miscues a game, both sums are too high.

"You have games like this at home where you can do things and can get out and break games open," Jackson said. "On the road you have to play a tighter game & you have to play a little tighter to the chest in these [away] games."

You could say the Lakers defense played well. The crowd at Staples Center certainly thought so as the team kept Indiana under 100 in the final minute to assure free tacos for everyone. But Ron Artest wouldn't agree with you.

Artest is rounding into the defensive dynamo he was brought in to be, holding Danny Granger to just 2-for-9 shooting and nine points, continuing -- as Mike Trudell, a writer for the Lakers' team Web Site pointed out -- a hit list of shutting down opposing small forwards the way that Chad Ochocinco used to keep track of the opposing cornerbacks he burned.

"We need to play defense every possession," Artest said. "In the first half it was bad."

Said Jordan Farmar: "We can still improve team defense; helping each other out, seeing where the other team is going to try to exploit us as a unit or where our weaknesses are and just helping each other out as a group collectively."

Oh, and they let Josh McRoberts score a career-high 15 points too, thus giving McRoberts a new favorite memory of the city of Los Angeles, replacing the night he once went on a date with Lauren Conrad from "The Hills."

Obviously in a 23-point win there are going to be more positives than negatives to point out, but when a team is striving for a championship, the little stuff matters.

Kobe's shooting struggles, turnovers, inconsistent team defense and lackluster early starts are all things the Lakers will look to "get away" from on the road.

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com