On the Lakers’ Latest Loss to the Cavs

Kobe Bryant and LeBron JamesIs Luke Walton Overrated?

During the second half of the Lakers loss to the Cavs on Sunday, January 27, 2008, commentator / analyst Jeff Van Gundy said that Luke Walton’s skills probably weren’t good enough to start for any NBA team, but Luke’s “basketball IQ” was very high, and that is what makes him an asset for the Lakers.

I like Luke, but I did wonder if people would be saying that if he wasn’t Bill Walton’s kid.

Luke Walton is playing nearly 26 minutes per game, but is averaging just 7.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. What makes those numbers worrisome, is ever since Walton secured his contract with the Lakers, pulling in $4 million this year, he has not been the player he was last year. This year, Luke Walton is down in points, shooting percentage, 3 point percentage, FREE THROW PERCENTAGE, rebounds, blocks, and assists.

In short, with that kind of dip in performance from last year, it is obvious Luke Walton isn’t the reason the Lakers have improved so much this year.

In the closing seconds of the Cavs / Lakers game, Luke used his “high basketball IQ” to kill any chance the Lakers had, slim as they were, of sending the game into overtime. It’s not like they tried to tie the game but missed, Luke made it so the Lakers didn’t even get a shot off.

Luke claimed that he did not know how much time was on the clock. How is that possible? The Lakers called time out to set the play! How could a “high IQ” player, in a crucial game ending play, not know the clock situation?

I wonder if Luke saw how the crowd turned on Kwame and told himself he wasn’t going to be the goat and tossed the ball back to Kobe.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I do NOT think Luke was the reason the Lakers lost; he is just the reason the Lakers didn’t get a last chance to tie the game.

How did the Lakers lose? Let’s start with the easy stuff.

— The Lakers shot 24 of 37 (64%) from the free throw line. They left 13 free points, with no defenders involved, on the line, including 3 missed free throws in crunch time by team leaders Kobe and Lamar.

— The Lakers dug themselves into a hole by only scoring 14 points in the 2nd quarter.

— The Lakers defense let up in the fourth quarter, allowing the Cavs to score their biggest quarter of the game.

— Kobe outplayed LeBron in the first half, shooting a perfect 6 for 6, leading LeBron in both rebounds and assists, and Kobe had no fouls or turnovers. Then after halftime, Kobe seemed to get caught up in the “Kobe vs. LeBron” aspect and totally changed his game plan. In the 2nd half, Kobe shot 4 for 15 (27%), had 3 fouls, one technical foul, and shot just 1 of 6 in the fourth quarter, with 2 turnovers, and 3 missed free throws.

— Phil Jackson’s got some ‘splainin to do too. In the 4th quarter, with the Lakers up by 1 (85-86), Phil Jackson yanked Kobe from the game and put Derek Fischer in his place. A minute and 22 seconds later, the Cavs were up by 4 (90-86), and Phil put Kobe back into the game. Kobe clearly needed redirecting, but obviously that wasn’t the way to do it.

— The Cavs literally tripped up and threw away their chance to seal the game, but Kobe did a Kwame, and instead of dunking with authority, he missed a layup. Kobe got the rebound, but was stripped by Daniel Gibson and had to foul LeBron to stop the clock.

— I have been trying to understand why Phil Jackson had that combination of players on the floor for the closing seconds. The Lakers HAD to score 3 points to extend the game into overtime, so it made no sense for the Cavs to defend anywhere but the arc.

Kobe had missed his only 3 point attempt. Derek Fisher was 0 for 5 from the arc. In fact, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar were the only Lakers to actually make 3 pointers Sunday, and neither were on the floor at the end of the game! Why wouldn’t Jackson put Fisher, Bryant, Vujacic, Farmer and Walton on the floor?

Anyway, it is tempting to say the Lakers lost because there was no Andrew Bynum, but the truth is the game was very winnable. The Lakers, from Kobe to Phil to Lamar to Luke … just blew it.

One final note. I’ve recently read some comments crowing about how this game proves LeBron James is better than Kobe Bryant.

— First of all, intelligent people understand that all one game can prove is what happened that game. I remember Gary Payton getting the best of Michael Jordan one game in the NBA Finals, but only a moron would use that as evidence that Payton was the better player.

— Second, these people have a track record of twisting stories and stats to suit themselves. Here are the lines for Bryant and James:

Kobe Bryant:
33 points, 21 shot attempts, 48% shooting, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 turnovers, +8 efficiency.

LeBron James:
41 points, 32 shot attempts, 50% shooting, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 turnovers, -3 efficiency.

Based on the history we’ve all had with these commenters, if these lines were reversed, we all know they would point to the 32 shot attempts and blast Bryant as selfish and not a team player for shooting so much. They would likewise criticize Bryant for his 5 turnovers, and say James is the better player because he had more assists, more rebounds, and his team benefited more overall when he was on the floor.

Instead, they hypocritically overlook what they would have regarded as faults if it were Kobe Bryant’s stat line, and instead praise LeBron James for them.

LeBron and Kobe are probably my two favorite players, and if LeBron were as mindlessly maligned as Kobe, I’d be defending LeBron James as well.

LeBron James may well be better than Kobe, but LeBron himself doesn’t think so. And even if LeBron is just being modest, one game wouldn’t prove it one way or the other.

One thing is certain, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, plus Chris Paul, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and perhaps a few others… are in a class of their own, and believe it or not, putting down any one of these guys doesn’t make us think you are some kind of unappreciated basketball genius. In fact, frankly, it is quite the opposite. Disparaging any of these players just makes you come off as immature.

  1. Amanda BlankAmanda Blank01-29-2008

    Lakers are the best team in the NBA, we have great fans, really Los Angeles has great fans we just need to stay up.
    For example, last week in Los Angeles ,an associate of mine wanted to watch the lakers, so I tried to get him front seats, guess what everything was sold out that show how great our fans are. GO lakers!!! God bless Basketball!!

Leave a Reply