The Lakers looked little like the defending champs that began this season with the league’s best record in a 102-87 blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday at STAPLES Center, putting a bit of a damper on L.A.’s Christmas.
The home team seemed somewhat surprised Cleveland’s effort in the early goings, falling behind by as many as 20 in the first half as the toll of playing some of the league’s weaker teams during the past two weeks took its toll.
A late second quarter run chopped the Cavs’ lead down to nine heading into halftime, but it was to no avail as the Lakers strangely failed to develop any kind of rhythm at either end of the floor.
“They played harder than we did,” summarized Kobe Bryant. “It’s as simple as that.”
Of course, that didn’t mean it was boring … you had Kobe, LeBron, Shaq, Santa, a bevy of technical fouls and more. As such, we called upon the alphabet to help us break down the matchup:
A – Attack: It was Cleveland who took the action to L.A. throughout the afternoon, attacking the basket on offense and swarming any Lakers player attempting to reach the rim on defense (see above Kobe quote).
B – Buckets Getting buckets has never been a problem for Bryant or LeBron James, who came into the league second (29.3) and third (28.8) in scoring, respectively. Today, Kobe led all scorers with 35*, but needed 32 attempts (making 11) to get there. LeBron settled for 26 points on 9-of-19 shooting.
In the process, he snuck up on Oscar Robertson’s 377 Christmas points with 304 all-time, good for 2nd.
C – Christmas Effect: You’re just as likely to see the Lakers on Christmas as Santa, Rudolph and candy canes, with this the 11th straight appearance for L.A. While several Lakers said it was great to be able to spend the holiday with their families, that also provides an (if positive) off-court distraction that a visiting team likely doesn’t have at the team hotel. After the game, however, assistant coach Brian Shaw rejected that excuse.
D – Dunks: The jams came early and often in this one, with Shaquille O’Neal starting the trend by hammering home three thunder dunks in the first quarter (how does the basket stay up, by the way?). Slams continued throughout the evening, including skywalks from Kobe, LeBron, Pau Gasol and Jamario Moon, who hammered home two particularly nasty alley-oops.
E – Entertainers: L.A. often runs a segment called “Hollywood Night’s” on the jumbotron, when Hollywood celebs are shown during the Bob Segar song. Checklist tonight: Adam Levine, Alex Trebek, George Lopez, Sly Stallone. No Jack, however, which may have been the problem*.
That was definitely the problem.
F – Free Throws: Two of the NBA’s best free throwers coming into the game were Pau Gasol (5th in NBA at .889) and Mo Williams (6th at .884). While Gasol missed 1-of-2 early, Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum combined to miss five at inopportune times while Williams made 9-of-10. LeBron missed five free throws himself in Cleveland’s 19-for-30 (63.3 percent), while L.A. went 20-for-27 (74.1).
G – Grandchildren: What’s Phil Jackson’s favorite part about Christmas? Watching his grandkids enjoy the day, as he revealed in his pregame presser. Jackson, always looking for teaching points, allowed his team to play through their first half struggles without a time out.
H – Halftime Deficits: Last year in Cleveland, the Cavs opened a 10-point halftime lead after a hot-shooting first half before L.A. rallied to win 101-91 thanks to a terrific second half. Today, the HT deficit was nine, but no such second half rally occurred.
I – Ice The one Laker without ice on his hand, Ron Artest, was the first to awake from the team’s collective first half slumber, leading the late second quarter charge that got L.A. back into the game. He finished the game with 13 points and six rebounds, and did a fine job holding James to 26 points on 19 shots, plus seven turnovers.
J – Jumpers: Unfortunately for L.A., “jumpers” was a good way to describe most of the team’s field goal attempts. They managed just 38 points in the paint.
K – Kobe: Though his numbers were as impressive as always – 35 points, nine rebounds, eight assists – they masked Bryant’s struggles. He made just 11-of-32 shots, often growing frustrated after not getting calls through traffic in the paint, and played nearly the whole game (45 minutes).
L – LOST: ABC’s hit show is set to return for its final season in February, but on this day, the word applied to L.A.’s bench. The pine unit combined for just two points on 1-of-9 shooting in limited action through three quarters. Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom scored the first five points of the fourth and Sasha Vujacic hit two jumpers in the final seconds, but L.A.’s second unit was still outscored 31-17.
M – Momentum: NBA games are always marked by big runs, of which there were several on this (holi)day. It was all Cleveland early, with three separate runs, though L.A. closed the half in strong fashion. The Lakers opened the third with a 6-0 run to cut the Cavs’ lead to six, though Cleveland answered with a 9-0 run of its own to regain control of the game.
N – No call? Repeated forays into the paint proved unproductive for Bryant in particular in this one. “We attacked the rim, just didn’t get the benefit of the doubt today … it goes that way sometimes.” L.A. was whistled for only three fouls in the first half, but seemed to get frustrated in receiving 18 personal fouls in the second half.
O – Ornate: Jordan Farmar’s Adidas shoes, all red and greened out for the holiday.
P – Personal Foul: A phrase Kobe was hoping to hear after repeated forays into the lane, but it just wasn’t happening. L.A.’s frustration boiled over to the point of three technical fouls (one on Fisher, two on Odom), and 18 personal fouls in the second half.
Q – Quotes: Look for a pattern here.
Kobe: “It’s a good wake-up call for us.”
Pau: “We didn’t come out right and weren’t ready to play.”
Odom: “We just didn’t compete as hard as they did … We are a lot tougher than that, mentally and physically.”
R – Rest Or lack there of, in L.A.’s case. The team has 22 sets of back-to-back action this season (its most since 1999-2000), including this one (L.A. flies to Sacramento for a Saturday game. With the loss, the Lakers are now 6-1 on the front end, and 4-2 in the second.
S – Situation: MTV’s new hit show “Jersey Shore,” the king of unintentional comedy, boasts “The Situation”, which refers to a cast member named Mike’s abdominal region (and him in general). Admittedly, there’s no reason to mention him in this context.
T – Three-pointers: Cleveland came into the contest with the two best three-point shooters in the league, including Anthony Parker (.505) and Daniel Gibson (.494), not to mention 13th ranked Mo Williams (.439), while the Lakers have not a player in the top 40. It was Williams who made 3-of-3 to pace Cleveland’s 7-of-18 (38.9 percent), while five different Lakers made one three in a 5-of-18 (27.8 percent) effort.
U – Unusual: The performance of Pau Gasol, who managed only 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting, six rebounds and a lone assist in nearly 39 minutes. Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum didn’t contribute much either, combining for 10 points and 11 rebounds.
V – Votes: What Kobe and LeBron get for the All-Star game. Bryant leads all players thus far with 1,380,383, and LeBron’s next with 1,351,292.
W – WWF: Ron Artest and LeBron may as well have been Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior (Artest’s favorite grappler) for the way they were wrestling particularly when James was trying to get open.
X: Can we just go with the Roman numeral for 10 with the X? Please? There’s just no good X word for basketball. Is there? At least X was on the hat given to Phil Jackson by his kids after his 10th coaching championship.
Y – Yikes That’s one way to describe L.A.’s shooting woes. Whether in the paint or on the perimeter, the Lakers couldn’t buy a bucket, as Christmas Elves (or reindeer) appeared to be lying across L.A.’s rim throughout the afternoon. The Lakers opened the game shooting 10-of-30 (33.3 percent), and finished with only 31 makes in 85 attempts (36.5 percent). Cleveland had no such problem, making 54.3 percent for the game.
Z – Zydrunas: Cleveland’s seven-foot center, Ilgauskas, had been forced to the Cavs’ bench with the addition of Shaq, finding different ways to contribute (like three overtime threes vs. Sacramento on Wednesday). In this one, Z was key for the Cavs, earning the starting nod in the second half after he better matched up with Gasol than starter J.J. Hickson. He finished with nine rebounds, two assists but just two points on 1-of-6 shooting, and helped limit to Gasol.