Even with Kobe Bryant playing his best basketball of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers are from over, and their attempts to make a playoff push in the final third of the NBA season keeps hitting roadblocks in the form of better teams, this time the Denver Nuggets.
Three consecutive wins against Portland, Boston and Dallas didn’t really change the fact that the Lakers are a flawed team. Kobe Bryant shot well, scoring 29 points (averaging 35.7 points over the last three games) on a 12-23 from the field game, while adding 9 assists, as he tried to get his teammates invovled as much as possible. It’s a shame to waste the focused-balanced Bryant period in the season’s timeline, but the Lakers simply don’t have a defense that can keep up with teams like the Nuggets.
The fast-break points, that’s a killer. That team is like a track team over there. They just ran out of the starter’s blocks and beat us down the floor. We couldn’t catch them. We just couldn’t catch them. For whatever reason, they just took off. Even on just a missed shot, we couldn’t get back quick enough.
They gave up 33 fast-break points against the Nuggets in a 119-108 loss, the most the team has conceded on fast-breaks since 2008.
It’s tough to neutralize speed, especially when they’re very good at what they do. Yeah, their speed. Their speed got us. They got out on transition, got easy buckets. Kept the pressure on us. We had to labor for opportunities, think we might have had two fast-break points. Contrast that with 33. It’s crazy.
The Lakers were punished every time they turned over the ball, ending up giving up 78 points in the paint. Dwight Howard had another impressive double double with 15 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocks, but he can’t hold the fort on his own. Howard is meant to make a half court defense impregnable, but there’s no use for his defensive presence when it’s chasing guys like Ty Lawson that the Lakers have to do.
Again, the old and tired issue came up, with the Lakers playing consecutive games, and the Nuggets knowing that pushing their feet on the gas pedal will just blow the opposition, who have been playing well (as individuals, not a team) recently, away.
The Lakers not managing to grab an offensive rebound during the first half and only 8 in the game against one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA (44-36, 7 players on the Nuggets grabbing at least 4 rebounds). It’s hard for team to be physically beaten into submission, and Bryant was more than slightly frustrated getting blocked more than once by JaVale McGee, leading him to pickup another technical foul.
Right now, teams like the Nuggets are out of reach for the Lakers, who aren’t good enough to force a kind of game that will slow down the Nuggets. They need to pick and win their battles elsewhere, against teams that don’t necessarily look for every opportunity to run them off the floor. The problem is that if other head coaches were watching, they know that even with Bryant on his best behavior, forcing the Lakers to run & gun might be the best answer to crumble their fragile defense and playoff bid.