Commentary

Middle of the road

Lakers continue to struggle away from Staples Center

Updated: March 5, 2010, 3:28 PM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

MIAMI -- After the Heat's 114-111 overtime win over the Lakers on Thursday, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said his team is dangerous because they aren't "afraid of the moment."

Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles locker room about 100 yards down the hall in the cavernous American Airlines Arena, Kobe Bryant basically said his team is suspect because it waits around for "the moment" to arrive instead of making it happen from the start of the game.

"We got to pick it up energy-wise," Bryant said. "We're so used to winning games at the end that we kind of coast and coast and coast as opposed to kind of turning it up the moment it's there."

In the first game of a ruthless road schedule that sends the Lakers away from Staples Center for 11 of their next 15 games, L.A. played well enough to win. Two late plays were crucial.

There was a no-call on a Bryant miss with 28.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter. "I'm sure he didn't shoot an air ball," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "That's unconscionable that that call can't be made at that point in the game."

Then there was a charge call on a Bryant drive with 18.7 seconds left in overtime. "Maybe it was a good play, maybe it wasn't," Bryant said. "I really don't know."

But if the defending champion Lakers had played like the first-place team in the West from the tip, they wouldn't have found themselves in a one-possession game with the eighth-place team from the East at the end.

"It's disappointing that we aren't setting a tone or establishing the way the game is going to be played from the beginning with a certain mindset, a certain toughness and a certain level of efficiency," Derek Fisher said. "If we could do that at the beginning of the game and really let teams know how tough it's going to be to win, I definitely think that would serve us much better."

It is great to have clutch players on your roster, just like it's great to know you have a fire extinguisher under your sink in case there's a grease fire in the kitchen, but it's never a good idea to start relying on the extinguisher instead of just minding what's cooking on the range.

Bryant hit another one of those shots that only he hits, tying the game with a pull-up jumper from 12 feet out and 3.3 seconds left on the clock to force the OT, but if the Lakers had treated the Heat -- a team in an inferior conference with 15 fewer wins -- like a doormat instead of a sparring partner, they never would have had to leave the game to chance in the extra session.

"We let a team that we're better than stay in the game in the first half on the road," Ron Artest said. "We just have to come out and play hard for the whole game. & Unfortunately, I think we took this game lightly."

In the Lakers' last four games, they led Miami by just three at halftime, trailed Indiana by one at the end of the first quarter, trailed Denver by nine at halftime and trailed Philadelphia by one at halftime.

The last three of those games were at home, so L.A. was able to make up for the lack of early energy and consistent execution against the Pacers, Nuggets and Sixers by making a timely run in the second half and riding the hometown buoy of positive emotion all the way to the win column.

It's not so easy on the road.

Pau Gasol was asked what he was interested in finding out about his team in its Finals rematch with Orlando that's looming on Sunday, but he was concerned about the more macro issue of how the Lakers will perform against any team when they're not wearing their home yellows or whites.

"I'm interested in seeing our team getting better and playing stronger on the road and being successful on the road," Gasol said. "So far we've been pretty inconsistent."

L.A. had the best road record in the league last season and started off 17-11 in away games this year before evening out to just 9-9 as the visiting team since Dec. 26.

After the Denver game, Gasol said he'd like the Lakers to be the aggressors and punish teams for even thinking they can play on the same court as them. Maybe they've spent too much time wearing their rings, seeing their championship banner hanging from the rafters or hearing TV and radio station identification tags in Los Angeles that constantly refer to them as the current titleholders.

Last June was nine months away. They need to start proving that they are still that team now and they will continue to be that team for at least the next four months.

Not a moment too soon.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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