It was another dreadful performance from the seemingly all-or-nothing Lakers on Tuesday, one where the team managed just 77 points in a loss to the Pacers.
There were 20 more points available to L.A. at the free throw line, but as has been the case all season long, the Lakers simply could not convert on those opportunities.
As a team, the Lakers were 23-of-43 from the line against Indiana, good for 53.5 percent — a mark that’s far worse than even the team’s free throw shooting average of 66.8 percent, which ranks 29th among the league’s 30 teams.
Kobe Bryant is not one to lament such things, despite how legitimate a role the team’s free throw woes have payed in its sub-.500 record on the season. After Tuesday’s loss, he focused instead on his 10 turnovers as one of the main factors in the Lakers struggles, while dismissing the free throw issue altogether.
“It was a tough game for us,” said Bryant. “I’ve got to minimize my mistakes. Ten turnovers are way too many for me, so I have to work on perfecting that and bringing that down.”
The Lakers had 21 turnovers as a team, nearly half from Bryant, who played almost 44 minutes.
“It boggles my mind that I had 10 turnovers,” said Bryant. “My responsibility is to pick everybody up. It doesn’t matter if we miss 20 free throws, we still could have won the game. The fact is we had 10 possessions where we couldn’t get looks at the basket because I turned it over.”
Actually, it does matter.
The Lakers lead the league in free throw attempts at 31.7 per game, almost four more than the team in second in that category, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The big difference, of course, is that the Thunder lead the league in making free throws at a clip of almost 85 percent.
OKC also has a winning record of 11-4. It’s not a coincidence.
The Lakers only have one historically bad free throw shooter in Dwight Howard, and finishing at the bottom of the league in that category while winning a championship certainly is possible. All four of Shaquille O’Neal’s title teams — Miami in 2006, and the Lakers squads of 2000, 2001, and 2002 — were all last or second to last in free throw percentage.
But this year’s Lakers team isn’t cruising at the top of the standings while leaving points at the free throw line without consequence. Sitting at just 7-8 and currently outside of the playoff picture, they can’t afford to be this bad.
Bryant was right to take responsibility for his part in the turnover issues on Tuesday. But far more emphasis needs to placed on the team’s free throw troubles in order to see a real change there, and it would help if the Lakers best player was the one leading that charge.