Having clinched home court advantage through the Western Conference Playoffs on Friday night, just how enticing was a chance to become the first team in NBA history to go 7-0 on a road trip for the Lakers?
As forward Josh Powell explained, it wasn’t so much about that potential streak … The team never wants to lose in general.
“We’re trying to win every game,” he said. “Being satisfied with losing isn’t gonna happen.”
That said, it could have been another feather in L.A.’s impressive 2008-09 cap had the squad managed not only to beat Atlanta on a dreary Sunday afternoon down South, but then to close out Charlotte (never easy) and Milwaukee. Too bad the Hawks had other things in mind, primarily by getting hot from three in the second half in a flow running contrary to L.A’s 35 percent shooting for the game that netted a season-low 76 points.
“You can always blame poor shooting,” said Phil Jackson. “But it comes down to the reality of basketball – getting penetration and getting the kind of shots off penetration that you want.”
The Lakers didn’t do that, and Atlanta didn’t help out. Up one at the half, the Hawks started the second by launching threes like Maverick fired Mig-intended missiles in “Top Gun,” nailing eight from long range (10 for the game) to essentially blow up L.A.’s chance for victory. The Lakers did mount a fourth quarter comeback that had them within eight with seven minutes to play, but if any of Atlanta’s triples were emblematic of the game, it was Mike Bibby’s with 5:32 remaining.
From the top of the key, Bibby’s attempt clanked hard off the back side rim, bounced high up in the air, landed on top of the basket and bounced back up … And then slowly trickled through the twine to put Atlanta up 12 and effectively squash the counter assault.
Kobe Bryant struggled to play through a sprained ankle incurred Friday against the Nets, making just 7-of-19 shots for 17 points as he wasn’t getting his regular lift on his jump shot. And with Bryant off his MVP form, L.A. needed much more than a combined 6-for-25 effort from Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza.
In fact, the only offensively effective Lakers were Pau Gasol, who made 7-of-10 shots, and Luke Walton, who was 3-of-4 off the bench. That Gasol only took 10 shots was certainly less than ideal, as L.A. both struggled to find him down low and the Hawks did well to swarm the big Spaniard when he did manage to catch it. Meanwhile, Hawks sub Zaza Pachulia was a force on the block, out-muscling L.A. to the tune of 13 boards and 11 points, and former Laker Maurice Evans made three third quarter triples to finish with 13 points himself.
With the loss, the Lakers fell two games behind Cleveland – which beat Dallas earlier on Sunday – but Phil Jackson had mentioned before the game that L.A. simply wasn’t concerned with the prospect of ceding potential home court advantage in the Finals. If L.A. and Cleveland manage to get out of their respective conferences, Jackson’s squad seems confident they can win a road game there. Still, Jackson emphasized more pointedly that there’s a great deal of work to do and time to pass before such a concern enters his mind.
To the numbers:
Three pointers hit by the Lakers despite 20 attempts (20 percent), exemplifying Phil Jackson’s complaint about settling for jumpers without penetration.
Threes hit in six attempts by Mike Bibby, who finished with a game high 21 points to tie Pau Gasol.
Points in the first quarter for the Lakers.
Assists for the Lakers, who had 29 assists in New Jersey two nights earlier.
Shots missed by L.A.’s starting forwards, Lamar Odom (3-for-14) and Trevor Ariza (3-for-11).
Atlanta’s three-point percentage in the second half on 8-of-12, including their first six shots in the third quarter.