By Taylor Shain, WSOE Sports
The Lakers must have been wearing costumes for Halloween, because they certainly did not look like defending champions Friday night at home against the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavericks smashed the Lakers, 94-80 in a game where the Lakers may have spent more time complaining to the refs than actually playing basketball.
When the Mavericks began to pull away in the third quarter, the Lakers did not show composure, or execute smoothly. Instead they were whining to the referees on almost every play, committing silly fouls and often standing around idly on offense. To put it simply, the Lakers panicked.
They let JJ Barea score an uncontested lay-up. Sasha Vujacic might have played the worst game of his career, with 4 cheap fouls and no points. Kobe Bryant was just 6 of 19 from the field, and he didn’t take over when his team needed him to.
But Ron Artest might have been the biggest culprit of all. He was supposed to be savoir to push the Lakers over the top. But, is Ron Artest actually better than Trevor Ariza? On more than one occasion Friday night, instead of deferring to Kobe Bryant, Artest took the game into his own hands…And proceeded to finish with just 3 points, 5 fouls and four turnovers. The Lakers would not have come close to winning the title last season without Trevor Ariza’s countless defensive plays, and huge shots that he made. I don’t think Artest will make the same contributions.
Granted, if Pau Gasol wasn’t out with a hamstring injury, he probably would have feasted on the Maverick’s frontline like a starving man at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
It was only the second game of the season, but for a team that won the title last year, I expected much more from them. The Lakers entered the season as heavy title favorites. Some people even thought they would win 70 games and cruise their way to a title. Those predictions are probably wrong.
With or without Gasol, the Lakers have many problems. Just like last year, their bench help may be limited to only Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown. Derek Fisher might be the only reliable three-point shooter. After two trips to the NBA finals and the Olympics, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol have a lot of mileage on their legs. The other title contenders around the league got a lot better. But the Lakers may have taken a huge step backward.
If Los Angeles wants an example, just look at the other side of the court. When the Lakers started to make a surge at the beginning of the fourth quarter and cut down the huge lead, did the Mavericks panic? Nope. They stayed calm, and continued to execute seamlessly. And, I don’t think the Mavericks were morose about missing one of their key players, Josh Howard.