Lakers can't change Mavs' game
LOS ANGELES -- Every time one of these perplexing losses has occurred in the past several seasons, the Lakers have shot back against the critics, but there weren't any excuses left in their quiver after their 96-94 Game 1 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Monday.
Can't blame it on Kobe Bryant's bum ankle -- he was dominant, scoring a game-high 36 points on 14-for-29 shooting.
Can't peg it on Pau Gasol -- he flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 15 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
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Not right to put it on the referees, either, although the Lakers tried to, with Gasol calling his foul on Dirk Nowitzki with 19.5 seconds left "questionable" and Bryant bringing up a late shove by Jason Kidd as the reason for their costly turnover with 3.1 seconds left, although the replay makes it look like he really stumbled to the floor on his own accord.
This one was about the Lakers having three days of prep time after exterminating the Hornets and still allowing Dallas to do what it wanted to do.
"Well, we went in the locker room and felt like we gave the game away," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said afterward.
There were two key bullet points that kept coming up in the days leading up to Game 1 as problem areas that L.A. would try to avoid when it came to the Mavs' attack: tamp down on their 3-point shooters and be cognizant of their bench.
Not only did L.A. miss on both points, but the Mavs managed to combine the two strengths to really send the message home, as they shot 9-for-20 (45 percent) from the outside overall, their second unit outscored the Lakers' reserves 40-25 and their bench did most of the damage from deep, hitting six of 13 3s.
"We just blew a lot of coverages," Bryant said. "Gave a lot of shooters open looks."
The egregious errors started in the third quarter when the Lakers fell asleep after sprinting to a 7-0 start out of halftime to build their lead to 16.
"The game was won [by the Mavericks] in the third quarter when we got the lead and we stopped playing defense and we stopped playing offense, basically," Jackson said.
Not exactly the type of execution you'd expect from the back-to-back defending champs, given ample time to dissect what Dallas was trying to do.
The Mavericks showed L.A. their game plan the first time these two teams met back in January, hitting 12 of 26 from 3 in a 109-100 win.
The next two times they played in the regular season -- both wins by the Lakers, mind you -- L.A. protected the perimeter with more fervor and Dallas shot blanks, going just 10-for-42 from downtown in those two games.
"We seen it coming; we just didn't stop it," Shannon Brown said. "We let the snowball roll all the way downhill."
"There were a couple things that we didn't do right, that we didn't execute defensively," Gasol said. "And they took advantage of it. We got to stick to our game plan and stay focused throughout four games and 48 minutes and stick to our assignments."
When Gasol says "a couple," you might as well assign the 3-point shooting as No. 1 and the bench as No. 2.
Statistically, the Lakers' Sixth Man of the Year, Lamar Odom, had a notable game with 15 points and 12 rebounds, but the Killer B's were killer in the wrong direction as Shannon Brown (minus-8), Matt Barnes (minus-3) and Steve Blake (minus-1) all had negative plus/minus ratings.
It was eerily similar to the way the Lakers started off their three-peat bid this postseason by dropping the first game against the New Orleans Hornets in the first round, despite plenty of time to prepare for Chris Paul & Co. that time around as well.
There's going to be a day when these ditches the Lakers dig for themselves are simply going to be too steep to climb out of.
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"It can hurt you because you get complacent," Bryant said of leaning too much on the experience of bouncing back from a 1-0 series deficit in the past as a crutch to gain confidence.
Jackson had to put his postseason countdown on hold after the game, writing "11 report" on the white board in the locker room to indicate Tuesday's practice time rather than "11 mo'" to signify that the team was one win closer to a championship.
"I'm highly concerned," Bryant said. "This team can beat us. It's clear."
He sounded focused. It's a shame the same couldn't be said for the Lakers all game long.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.