1. Different Country, Same Problems For Lakers
TORONTO -- To watch the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday was to see familiar sights: untouched opposing cutters, contested Kobe Bryant jumpers, frustrated faces and an unfavorable final score. It happened to be against the Toronto Raptors this time.
"It doesn't have anything to do with the other teams," Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni said. He said it after his team lost 108-103 at the Air Canada Centre. It was the Lakers' eighth loss in 10 games, dropping their record to 17-23. As exactly no one predicted to start the season, Los Angeles is 11th in the West and three games out of the playoffs.
"It's got to do a lot with us," a dispirited D'Antoni said.
The Lakers dug themselves a hole in Toronto, giving up an early 11-0 run and trailing by as many as 16 in the first quarter. They had flown in from L.A. the day before for a game starting at 10 a.m. Pacific time but, to Steve Nash, that is not an excuse. "If anything, it's a warning sign," he said.
"We should have come out fired up to combat that and fight through it, and tonight we kind of gave into that a little bit and weren't quite in the building right away," said Nash. "It's frustrating because we know what's at stake for this team."
It's fair to look at the offense and, specifically, Kobe Bryant's 26 points on 10-for-32 field goal shooting with six turnovers -- Bryant took the blame for the loss talking to reporters and his Twitter followers -- but, as usual with the Lakers, that is missing the main point. Bryant's many misfires certainly contributed to the end result, but Los Angeles scored well enough to win. The problem is that, as it has been seen all season, the Lakers couldn't get stops when they needed them.
The Lakers allowed the Raptors to shoot 46-for-84 (54.8 percent) from the floor and gave up 52 points in the paint to a team that averages 36, fourth-fewest in the league. Thirty of those came after Dwight Howard was ejected with 1:18 left in the second quarter. While Howard elected not to address it after the game, both Bryant and Metta World Peace expressed their displeasure with the official's decision to give Howard his second technical.
Howard finished with five points and two rebounds in seven minutes, but his presence was missed mostly on the defensive end.
"Once you see Dwight down there blocking shots, it kind of discourages the other team to drive the ball down there," said Earl Clark. "When he's gone, it's just a layup special."
"I think tonight we were a little lazy. We were cutting corners," said Nash, who said that the answers to the Lakers' problems lie with the little things.
"Instead of being tight to somebody, we're a step off," said Nash. "Instead of being exactly where you're supposed to be, you're a step or two away so you're caught in between."
Some, perhaps even most, of the Lakers' problems can be attributed to external factors -- the new players, the injuries to their stars, the coaching change that took place five games into the season -- but the schedule is not forgiving. Monday's game against the Chicago Bulls will mark the halfway mark of the season. If the Lakers need time, it is not on their side.
"It's a frustrating loss, and I will say that there has definitely been urgency here," said Nash, who then laughed as he added, "in theory."
"Today wasn't that urgent," Nash continued. "But I have to say, the guys -- today wasn't a great performance -- but the guys have come in every day, had a good attitude, worked together and tried to support each other. We're just not finding any consistent love out of our group, and we've just gotta keep plugging away."
With unmet expectations and constant criticism, those in the locker room are trying to remain optimistic, confident, together. "It's not as bad as it looks," Bryant said.
"We still believe in ourselves," said World Peace, who spent much of his scrum preaching positive energy, including an elaborate analogy to the movie "Avatar." "We're still positive. When you're on that court, that's all you have is coaches and players. Sometimes it clicks, and sometimes it doesn't, and you have to own it. So I can't give you no excuse, I'm a part of this and everybody else is a part of this and you have to own it. You have to."
The best thing for the Lakers might be that they're forced to move on instead of dwelling on yet another low point in a season full of them.
"It'll seem like a year and a half before we play Chicago," D'Antoni said. "But I'll get over that."
James Herbert's work appears on Hardwood Paroxysm. Follow him @outsidethenba
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
Most Valuable Player: Corey Brewer. His 26-6-3 line is the sum of tight defense, clever dribble-drives, effective passing, turn-around jumpers, crossovers, and all-around competitiveness. For a game that was ugly offensively at times, Brewer got the hardest buckets to fall.
That was ... jarring: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook shot a combined 17-for-46 from the field but ended with 73 points. How? With veteran scoring savvy, they got to the line, ending with 38 combined trips to the stripe.
X factor: Denver had 20 offensive rebounds in the game and nearly every player on Denver's roster got multiple caroms. In a wild game filled with gritty, often poor execution, offensive rebounds helped the Nuggets impose some structure on the game.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Jose Calderon, who finished with 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting and nine assists. He was masterful in the pick-and-roll and hit a handful of timely, backbreaking shots throughout the game.
X factor: It was a good day to be Ed Davis and Landry Fields. The two combined for 36 points on 17 of 24 shooting. Fields owes Calderon a steak dinner for all the backdoor feeds.
That was ... unwarranted: The double technical foul call that had Dwight Howard ejected with 1:18 left in the second quarter was a weak call. In what turned out to be a close game, Howard could've made a difference.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Shawn Marion. Matrix's 20 points and 10 rebounds led the way for the Mavs, and he played solid defense all night.
X factor: The Mavericks scored 24 points off the Magic's 14 turnovers, several of which came late in the first quarter when the Magic led big.
Defining moment: After the Magic opened the game with an 18-4 lead, they started getting sloppy with the ball and let Dallas go on a run. From there, they were playing catch-up the rest of the way.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Greg Monroe had 15 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. It's his fifth straight double-double. Monroe never dominated tonight, but he was solid throughout.
X factor: Andre Drummond was an alley-oop machine the Celtics couldn't stop. So, they tried fouling him, but he made six of eight free throws. Drummond's presence confounded Boston and freed other Pistons for quality looks.
That was ... sloppy: Brandon Knight had seven turnovers, and Rajon Rondo had nine. When both teams' starting point guards do such a poor job of taking care of the ball -- even though both played fairly well overall -- it can make for an ugly game.
3. Sunday's Best
Corey Brewer, Nuggets: While OKC's dynamic duo stuffed the stat sheet, Brewer brought home a winner. He came off the bench and dropped in 26 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter of Denver's 121-118 overtime win.
4. Sunday's Worst
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"I was really proud of Andre, the way he responded when they resort to hack-a-Drummond. You know you're in the league when they do that."
-- Detroit coach Lawrence Frank, after the rookie with a 39 percent free throw mark sank six of eight free throws against Boston.
8. Brewing Up A Win
9. Stat Check
Kevin Durant went 20-for-21 from the free throw line in Oklahoma City's loss at Denver on Sunday after he was 21-for-21 from the line on Friday at Dallas. Durant is the first player in NBA history to make at least 20 free throws in consecutive games.
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10. Dunk Of The Night