4. January 2011 01:11
Did Kobe lose his legs? Is the team just sandbagging during a dead spot in the schedule knowing that you don't win championships in December and January? What the heck is going on with the suddenly slumping Showtime set?
The first step in finding answers is to get a sense of the scope. Everyone's basically gnashing their teeth (via newspaper columns, radio shows, or podcasts) over a 2-4 record during this six game stretch:
Milwaukee 98, Lakers 79
Miami 96, Lakers 80
San Antonio 97, Lakers 82
Lakers 103, New Orleans 88
Lakers 102, Philadelphia 98
Memphis 104, Lakers 85
A few things jump off the page immediately. The Lakers aren't scoring much in their losses! That's 79, 80, 82, and 85 in poor performances, but over 100 in the wins. Is the team slowing down too much, and that's hurting their form? Or, is the slump not pace-related at all?
85 vs. Milwaukee
88 vs. Miami
94 vs. San Antonio
93 vs. New Orleans
95 vs. Philadelphia
94 vs. Memphis
Those are low for the Lakers. They were at 95 or above in 21 of their first 28 games. So, we're clearly seeing a slowdown during this recent slide.
*Kobe did lose his legs, and the team has stopped running
*The Lakers are resting a bit during this midpoint of the season
*Opponents are forcing a slowdown and having success with the strategy
Could be any of those, or a mix. We'll need more than six data points in the sample size. Let's go beyond pace and look at efficiency...
92.9 vs. Milwaukee
90.9 vs. Miami
87.2 vs. San Antonio
110.8 vs. New Orleans
107.4 vs. Philadelphia
90.4 vs Memphis
Points per possession are obviously WAY down in the losses. The Lakers are at 108.1 for the season. They've averaged 96.6 during that sextet, with the four losses at 92.9 or below.
So, the team is slowing down, AND they're playing much worse offensively even after you adjust for tempo.
Is it all offense? Or, have seen seen a slide on defense too?
115.3 vs. Milwaukee
109.1 vs. Miami
103.2 vs. San Antonio
94.6 vs. New Orleans
103.2 vs. Philadelphia
110.6 vs. Memphis
Pretty ugly there as well. The Lakers are at 101.8 for the year, but averaged 106.0 over the sampling.
DIFFERENCE FROM FULL SEASON FORM
11.5 worse on offense
4.2 worse on defense
A slump on both sides, but much bigger on offense.
I scanned the boxscores to see if anything jumped out from an individual category. Turnovers made their presence felt.
16-16 vs. Milwaukee
12-9 vs. Miami
16-9 vs. San Antonio
20-14 vs. New Orleans
14-11 vs. Philadelphia
20-9 vs. Memphis
How about that...the article about Memphis forcing turnovers was being written just before they forced a lot of turnovers from the Lakers. Clearly some issues there. The Lakers didn't win the category a single time, and committed 20 twice. Note also this was during a period of slow basketball. Evidence is suggesting the Lakers play cleaner basketball at faster paces, with miscues more prominent when they slow down and play a halfcourt game. Or, maybe the transition to having Andrew Bynum back in the lineup on a full time basis is leading to awkwardness inside.
Have we answered any questions about what's wrong with the Lakers? We've outlined the big picture. It's too early to be confident with specifics. Boston played .500 ball for the last 65% of last season and still won the East. If a team's resting up for important games later, who cares what they're not doing when they're not going full speed? If there is blame to be dished out, it starts on the offensive side of the court, and turnovers deserve further attention. We'll keep an eye on the key numbers as the story develops.
Coming up this week for the Lakers:
Tuesday: vs. Detroit
Wednesday: at Phoenix (back-to-back)
Friday: vs. New Orleans
Sunday: vs. New York
Tempo challenges with Phoenix and New York, and Superleague games with the Hornets and Knicks. A week from tonight we'll have 10 samples to study instead of six.
I'm not ready to accept the "Kobe hit a wall" line of thinking just yet. Let's see what's going on with offensive synergy over these next four games.