Tuesday, May 15, 2012

State of Laker Nation Recap: A Pathetic Lakers Apologist Searching For Logic

If someone were to say, "Hey buddy, "you owe me one million dollars", you'd look at him and laugh, brush it off and move on to more serious conversation. He insists "no, really, you owe me one million dollars. I need it by Tuesday". What do you even do in that situation? You don't have that type of capital and even if you did, would you be able to hand it over like that? It's such a ridiculous situation regarding a unfathomable amount of money that I don't even know that you'd panic. You'd just sit there for a while, not knowing how you even go about wrapping your mind around the matter at hand.

Now, what if you're in that same situation, but you owe someone $900?  You have that money, and now you have to hand that over, maybe in 100 dollar bills. You're freaking out. You're so nervous that you can't tell if you have to pee or vomit. That's a palpable amount you can comprehend, and unfortunately, deal with. Oddly enough, $900 is a much scarier prospect than some abstract concept of owing a million dollars that you surely don't have.

I'm holding on to this very shoddy analogy like a small Asian boy holds on to his teddy bear at night as a 27 year-old living in New York City as I think about last night Lakers/Thunder game, in which YOUR...Oklahoma City Thunder laid a 119-90 shellacking on LA. The Lakers got jumped last night, but in many ways, a 29-point, out of control loss might be slightly easier to digest than a close, 10-point loss with 48 minutes of hustle. To examine, let's go over some numbers for Oklahoma:

  • OKC shot 53% for the game, 41% from three and 81% from the line.
  • After leading the league in the regular season in turnovers, OKC produced just 4 last night...and one was from Royal Ivey in garbage time
  • James Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook scored 69 points on 22 for 42 shooting
  • Westbrook neared a triple-double with a 27/7/9 line
  • Despite taking (and making) mostly jumpers during the game, the Thunder still scored 44 points in the point
  • OKC scored 22 points off the Laker 15 turnovers and got to the free throw line nearly double the time 
  • The Thunder had 13 steals...to the Lakers 1
And now for LA:
  • LA shot a respectable 43%, but produced 15 turnovers
  • The Lakers had zero (yes, ZERO) fast break points
  • Even in losing by such a large margin, the Lakers still won the rebounding battle 43-41
  • Andrew Bynum was active, throwing down a 20/14
  • Taking out garbage time, the Lakers shot 5 for 12 from three-point range
  • The Lakers got hung up for 39 points in the third quarter. They gave up less than that in the second half of Game 7 against the Nuggets
It's hard to analyze those statistics; after all, how do you analyze a video game? These numbers are quite honestly cartoonish. The Thunder dismantled the Lakers last night, yes, but how? As the title of this post suggest, I'll try to find some logic in this loss. Because I am a pathetic Lakers apologist.

Looking at the box score, it's obvious that OKC was the much more aggressive team, on both ends of the floor. Offensively, they attacked the basket (well, Harden, Durant and Westbrook did - they shot 24 of the Thunder's 29 free throws) and kept the pressure on a creaky Lakers zone all game long. Defensively, they forced turnovers with pressure defense and quick hands. If you're looking here for more analysis, I don't really have it. The Thunder were just much faster and more aggressive and shot the hell out of the ball last night (Only 5 buckets in the paint between Durant and Westbrook). However...

The Lakers weren't completely manhandled offensively, if you can believe it. They still shot 43% from the field, and before garbage time, crushed the Thunder on the boards. In the first quarter at least, the team seemed active, moving the ball around crisply, confusing the Thunder defense and leading to easy baskets for Andrew and Pau inside. Moving out to the three point line, in an achievement for LA, they shot 5 for 12 before the game got to the subs. At the stripe, they got there 15 times and sunk nearly all of their free throws. And then it all fell apart. The Thunder, as we've said before, were faster and more aggressive.  They had the first step on every single possession, on both ends.

To me, the stats tell the story: every way that the Thunder beat them was on energy and aggression, which visually and statistically, the Lakers lacked. After an explosive first 10 minutes, keeping neck and neck with OKC, LA simply lost the explosiveness that we saw all throughout Game 7. They were slow getting around screens and rotating defensively. It's not like they weren't hustling or fighting; they just looked 2 steps slow. The passes weren't as crisp and their pivots weren't as tight. The Lakers simply could not control the pace of the game, a imperative task if the Lakers think they can win this series. It looked like LA had played a game 40 hours earlier in a city that's a 3 to 4 hour flight away, depending on tail winds.

Ah yes. That actually happened. Though it was a disadvantage of their own design the LA finished Game 7 on Sunday morning at 2am Central Time, flew to OKC and had to play a game Monday night at 6pm Central Time. With less than 40 hours to prepare, mentally and physically after a hard-fought series with the Thunder, can anyone honestly say they couldn't see this coming? It's hard for me to fault the Lakers' effort last night; they played really hard - see the rebounding battle, Lakers fast break points (again, zero) and Thunder turnovers (despite finishing dead last in forced turnovers during the regular season at 11 a game, making the Thunder only turn the ball over 4 times seems like an anomaly for a team that led the league in miscues). Right there is a perfect portrait of how the Lakers lost - they made so many mistakes on plays lacking energy, and the Thunder perfectly capitalized on all of them. Every time a Laker couldn't get to his man quite quick enough, someone from OKC drilled a slightly open jumper. The Thunder created turnovers on every sloppy pass, and conversely, the Lakers didn't have that first step to force any OKC ballhandling errors.

All in all, the Thunder did exactly what they were supposed to do; they saw a weakness, attacked it and executed it with an assassin's efficiency. Please don't read this wrong; this Oklahoma team is really effing good. James Harden was unbelievable and somehow, your MVP-runner up Kevin Durant only looked like the third-best guy on his own team. But they're not perfect, and for the most part, they were last night. The Lakers, with more rested starters, have two days to regroup, rest and come out in Game 2 knowing that they're far better than how badly they got beat last night. Losing by 30 in many ways is so much easier than losing a close contest; you just chalk up a loss to one team playing poorly and the other one playing as best they possibly could. In a 10 point loss, I think the logic goes to "We gave them our best shot, and they're still standing. Damn."

This is a prideful Lakers team that knows their destiny if they were to make a relatively early exit in the playoffs.  I'm not going to freak out and say that the Lakers have no chance of winning this series; I said it earlier this week that I think Oklahoma takes it in 7, but in that deciding game, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Lakers storm back. But I have to see more energy on Wednesday than I saw last night.

The Lakers aren't dead yet. Hang on, kids.

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