The Lakers have lost three games in a row and the San Andreas Fault is the only thing that shakes up Los Angeles worse.
Despite back-to-back titles and a head coach who treats the regular season as a means to an end, Lakers fans can get pretty worked up — the team has only lost three straight once since Pau Gasol came to town. And no Phil Jackson championship team has ever lost four in a row, so clearly Wednesday night’s game in Houston is like Game 7 of the finals.
There’s also hand wringing and pontificating about what is wrong with the Lakers? Why the losing streak?
Meet the new loss, same as the old loss. What’s hurting the Lakers now are the same two things that cause all their losing streaks.
First, they stop protecting the paint and the rim on defense. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom’s natural instinct is not to block shots in the paint, if you combine that with a big man on the other team who can hit the midrange jumper — Marc Gasol did that, Roy Hibbert did that — then you pull the Lakers bigs out and make it harder for them to do what they don’t do that well anyway. (By the way, the Rockets can do this, too.)
Andrew Bynum helps fix a lot of this. But even Gasol and Odom come playoff time become much better about this.
Secondly, the Lakers get in the cycle of getting the ball inside less to Gasol and standing around and watching Kobe in isolation more. It’s a pattern you can see coming — the Lakers stop feeding Gasol and running the offense through him a few times in a row, and things stagnate. The Laker don’t get points.
So Kobe decides to break the cycle, isolates and tries to take on more of the offense. He demands the ball, because he has that personality. The team defers, then stands around and watches him. Lather, rinse and repeat a few times down the court. And the offense gets more stagnant and the other team can overload their defense. Which Kobe is more than willing to take on singlehandedly, because he is Kobe.
Phil Jackson doesn’t yell at Gasol and Odom to get their behinds back in the paint on defense, he doesn’t call a time out and scream to start throwing the ball back inside to Gasol. He lets the losses remind his players what works. He lets their competitive natures teach the lesson, thinking a lesson you teach yourself is one you are better to remember. (He also knows he an afford the losses to teach the lessons in a way many teams cannot.)
The Lakers are in one of those cycles now. Soon — maybe against the Rockets, maybe not — the Lakers will break out of it, start doing those things right again. Bynum will eventually return and change the dynamic on defense and on the glass.
It is what it always is with the Lakers. Nothing to panic about, just some mid-season teaching.