Below are five things to take from the Lakers’ 124-112 loss Tuesday over the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center:
1. The Lakers’ big lineup looked sluggish. Blame Pau Gasol’s nine point effort on 4 of 9 shooting partly on rustiness and a lack of energy stemmed from a four-game absence because of vertigo. Chalk up Chris Kaman’s 12 points on 6 of 16 shooting partly on fatigue. But even if both players have versatile skillsets, Gasol and Kaman did not state a great case in convincing a skeptical Mike D’Antoni that he should start them together.
The concerns had little to do with their offensive production and everything surrounding their defense. The lack of foot speed Gasol and Kaman possessed played a large part in Portland tallying XX points in the paint. Even with the Lakers doubling on LaMarcus Aldrdige, he still scored 31 points on an 12 of 20 clip. When he wasn’t scoring off of those double teams, Portland made the Lakers pay with deadly three-point shooting (13 of 29 from the field). That is why D’Antoni soon went with Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly for chunks of the second half.
Of course, the Lakers have played atrocious defense all season, regardless of the 33 lineups they have fielded because of overlapping injuries and inconsistency. But consider the Lakers’ 107-106 victory last month in Portland where the team’s small ball lineup helped secure the victory. Though the Lakers did not offer a defensive clinic, they were able to use their speed, athleticism and effort to offset the inevitable size disadvantage. That element also contributed toward Aldridge’s 21 points coming on only 9 of 19 shooting.
2. Nick Young provided a signature Swaggy P performance. This marks one of those games Young could never take enough shots. He posted a season-high 40 points on 15 of 26 shooting where he made nearly everything imaginable, an effort that fell short of his career-high 43 points against Sacramento on 2011 with Washington. Young sank his first eight shots. After showing visible pain on his recently sore right knee off of a putback, Young fought back on the next possession and sank a 3-pointer with ease. Later in the fourth quarter, Young made a putback after falling on the ground and converted on a reverse dunk.
The fact that Young went on a scoring binge isn’t surprising. He remains one of the few players on the Lakers that can create his own shot. But Young provided his usual job description by feeding off of the Lakers’ crisp ball movement and feeding off of his own rhythm.
3. Steve Nash plays brilliantly even amid a setback. As he’s labored through endless amount of rehab to fix the nerve irritation in his back, Steve Nash has treated Lakers fans the same way those enjoy HBO on a free trial period. Both provide brilliant and entertaining programming, but it only comes in a short time frame. Nash posted 10 points and 10 assists in an efficient 22 minutes, but he left with 9:18 left in the second quarter because of a sprained left ankle.
No worry. After receiving treatment during that stretch, Nash returned in the second half and still looked pretty fluid. Even when took a fall on a drive to the basket, Nash immediately bounced back up. As with anything regarding Nash, the slightest nick on his 40-year-old body could throw things out of whack regarding the nerve irritation. But considering Nash’s minute limitations only stemmed from taking a conservative approach, it appears he has a good chance to keep playing until Jordan Farmar returns from a strained right groin sometime next week.
4. Jodie Meeks has a rare off game. He jokingly took issue the other day that he had gone on an 11-game stretch where he scored at least double digits, believing it could jinx his streak. Oops. Meeks had a rare off night posting four points on 2 of 7 shooting. Nothing much more to read into than just an off shooting night. Considering Meeks’ breakout season where he has scored with outside shooting, mid-range jumpers and drives to the basket while consistently hustling on defense, it appears likely he will bounce back quickly.
5. Jordan Hill and Wesley Johnson do not play. Hill missed time because he became a casualty of D’Antoni willing to start Gasol and Kaman. Wesley Johnson sat out because he has recently struggled with his effort level, defensive awareness and shooting. That has coincided with Kent Bazemore’s improvement, including a 17-point performance against Portland on a 6 of 10 clip and four rebounds.