The Lakers lost their first game of the season last night to the Nuggets. Despite their stars having an off-night, the Lakers led most of the way but the Nuggets rallied in the fourth to pull out the win, 118-112.
It's actually amazing the Lakers were in this game as long as they were. They led by 5 at the break despite Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom combining to shoot 8 for 28 from the field. The Lakers usually survive nights when one and often two of those three have poor performances but when all three are off against a good team chances of winning aren't good.
Odom's inspiring play coming off his summer with Team USA has been one of the biggest reasons the Lakers have gotten off to such a scorching start. But last night was more typical of many of his performances last season. Odom wasn't aggressive and didn't look to draw contact. He made 1 of 6 shots and finished with 3 points. This from a player that had been averaging nearly 16 points and shooting over 60% from the field.
Bryant went back to being a volume shooter. Phil Jackson had geared the offense towards Gasol this season to lessen the burden on Bryant while he recovers from knee issues. Bryant was averaging under 18 shots a game and not looking to force shots. But last night he jacked up 32 shots, yielding just 34 points. He never got in rhythm last night and was wildly inefficient.
The reason Bryant felt he had to take that many shots was because Gasol was having his worst game of the season. This is really why the Lakers lost the game. Gasol had trouble on both ends of the floor and didn't look like the same player that had been putting up MVP-like numbers through the first 8 games. He couldn't stick with Nene on the defensive end and he looked tired banging with him on the offensive end. Even when they put a much smaller Al Harrington on him, he still couldn't get any easy buckets. Gasol shot just 6 for 17 scoring 17 points. In 88 games last season, only 9 times did Gasol have more field goal attempts than points. He did grab 20 rebounds but that's no great feat against a team missing two of their big men.
Shannon Brown did his best to keep the Lakers in this game. Brown has to be one the leaders for Sixth Man Award this year. I know it's just 9 games in but his shooting percentages are way up from last year. He's shooting 50% from three-point range and is also playing stellar defense. But his efforts weren't enough as the Nuggets bench came up huge.
The difference for the Nuggets was their bench play. They scored 43 points on 15 of 29 shooting. The Lakers had a 10-point lead, 95-85 before the Nuggets bench scored 16 straight points to take a 101-95 lead. Ty Lawson led the way with 17 points and J.R. Smith added 13. When the Nuggets get Chris Anderson and Kenyon Martin back they're going to be a deep and dangerous team (assuming they don't trade Anthony before then).Side note: The refs have been all over the map with these technical calls for too much complaining. Sometimes the slightest reaction gets the whistle (happened to Nate Robinson last night) and sometimes players can scream, clap and bark at officials down the floor (looking at you Kobe) and it gets ignored. But it's not just the superstar treatment (although, I do believe that plays a factor). Carmelo was called for one last night and it didn't seem like anything more than his usual reaction. If the NBA wants to crack down on this stuff (which I think is dumb to begin with), they need to at least be consistent.