Kobe Bryant was on pace to set a career-high last night against the Thunder but sat out the fourth quarter with the outcome having been decided long before. No, Bryant wasn't on pace for over 81 points or over 15 assists or 7 steals. Bryant was on pace to surpass his career-high in turnovers. Bryant had eight in the first half and finished with nine, two short of his career-high. The Thunder led from wire to wire to beat the Lakers for the first time in 13 games, 91-75.
The game was nowhere near as close as that score indicates. Just to break down how awful this game was for the Lakers - here are a few facts:
-The Lakers just missed tying a franchise low in assists. They avoided tying the mark with their seventh assist of the night with just over one minute remaining.
-The 75 points scored was the lowest in three years.
-Adam Morrison played 9 minutes. AND he was the most productive Laker - hitting on both of his field goal attempts.
As poorly as the Lakers played, most of the credit must go to the Thunder. They played great defense forcing the Lakers into 18 turnovers and under 40 percent from the field. Bryant couldn't get anything going against Thabo Sefolosha. He was just part of the defensive effort that made the Lakers look old and slow. The most glaring example was Russell Westbrook having a field day with the Lakers guards. He had no problem getting to the rim or stopping and pulling up for an uncontested jumper. Durant led the Thunder with 26 points but Westbrook was the catalyst. Westbrook had 23 points on 10 of 13 shooting and added 6 assists and 4 steals.
Speaking of Durant - he is officially a superstar. Not just because he scored 26 points and is the NBA leader in points per game but he's now getting Kobe calls. Even Phil Jackson noticed it, "He got some calls, got to the line, that [was] questionable to me." But how much can he really complain since Bryant has been getting those calls for over 10 years now.
So who are these Lakers? They go to San Antonio on Wednesday and dominate defensively in the second half but two days later have their worst game of the season. They haven't had any consistency for a long time now. Sure, Andrew Bynum and Luke Walton are out but regardless, the amount of effort they display is inconsistent. After the game Bryant said he was disappointed in their play but, "when the playoffs start, it's a different situation." When Bryant says it, I believe it. I think he is a player that can turn it off and on relatively easily and will be ready to step up in the playoffs. The problem is, I doubt the rest of the team will be able to do the same. They need to get into some sort of groove as the season winds down or they're going to have a real tough time in the playoffs.
It would take a huge collapse for the Lakers not to finish first in the Western Conference. They are five and a half games up on the Nuggets with just 10 games to play. It also seems unlikely they will catch the Cavs for the best overall record. They're currently three and a half back and the Cavs own the tiebreaker. So they're really not playing for much in these last 10 games. Well, except for pride and continued improvement. But if last night is any example, they don't seem to care much about either of those things.