LOS ANGELES — Even with the return of Kobe Bryant after he missed the last three games due to leg fatigue, it was still more of same for the Los Angeles Lakers falling 116-107 to the Phoenix Suns.
Los Angeles held control of the game for much of the first half leading by as many as eight points. Nick Young scored 12 points in the second quarter that included going 4-of-4 behind the arc.
However, Phoenix made an 8-2 run to end the second quarter to trim the deficit to 56-55 at the half. This included five of Goran Dragic‘s 12 first half points.
It was a sharp shooting two quarters for the Lakers at 50 percent field goal percent with (6-of-9) 66.7 percent shooting from 3-point range. They also dished out 15 assists on 22 makes in the first half.
In the second half, things quickly turned in the Suns’ favor with Eric Bledsoe scoring 16 of his 22 points in the game on 6-of-8 shooting to go along with two assists.
They expanded their lead from the get-go in the fourth quarter with a 10-4 run that included back-to-back 3-pointers by Dragic and Gerald Green.
Los Angeles closed the gap late in the game to a one-point deficit after a pair of free throws by Young to make it 106-105 with 2:21, but Phoenix had an answer for every make.
They sealed the deal with a 10-2 run in the final two minutes of the game. The Lakers made just one field goal in their final four possessions of the game.
Lakers fall to 9-22 on the season, and currently hold the fifth-worst record in the league. Here are five things we learned on Sunday night:
Kobe Bryant’s minute plan
After sitting out three games, Bryant returned to the court on Sunday, and looked to play the role of a facilitator early in the game trying to get his teammates involved. He didn’t take his first shot attempt until the 2:28 mark in the first quarter.
Bryant continued to get his teammates going throughout the first half taking only four shot attempts, and dished four assists with five rebounds.
In the second half, he looked to find his shot a little more often with five shot attempts but overall he remained in the mindset to get his teammates involved in the flow of the game.
He didn’t look to get involved offensively after he was subbed in for the final 6:44 of the fourth quarter with just one shot attempt, two assists, and two turnovers.
Bryant stated after the game that he felt fine physically, and the reduced minute load made his body a little less sore.
“I feel fine. My legs felt a lot better,” Bryant said, who had 10 points, eight assists, and seven assists. “[I’m] just working myself back into things. But I feel fine.”
He also added that he trusts head coach Byron Scott to be “disciplined” in managing his minutes moving forward to help maintain his health over the long haul.
Scott expressed the same sentiment as he stated that the onus falls on him to “fight the temptation” to put Bryant in the game earlier in the fourth quarter due to his importance to the team.
“I had [his minutes] pretty much in my mind,” Scott said. “I talked to him about a game plan, as far his minutes are concerned. I had a good idea of what I going to do with him minute-wise tonight. He played perfect minute-wise.”
All in all, this will continue to be a topic of discussion as the season rolls along.
Nick Young brings spark off bench
Young had one of his better offensive performances of the season with a team-high 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting in 25 minutes played.
The 29-year-old got it going in the second quarter with four consecutive 3-pointers, and his second assist to Carlos Boozer for a layup gave Los Angeles an eight-point lead at 47-39 midway through the quarter.
He kept it rolling in the second half, in particular the fourth quarter, with seven points on 2-of-6 shooting with two free throws down the stretch that cut the deficit to one point at 106-105 with 2:21 left.
However, what stood out the most in the fourth quarter was after Bryant checked back into the game he looked to get Young involved. This was something that the seven-year veteran classified as a confidence builder for him personally moving forward.
“Yes, most definitely,” Young said. “Kobe has been my favorite player growing up. To have him talking to me and telling me to come get the ball when he’s out there, that’s all-time confidence.”
Young has been a consistent scoring punch off the bench for the Lakers averaging 14.9 points per game, and has scored in double figures 17 times this season.
He has also lead the benching in scoring 13 of his 21 games as a reserve, and Sunday’s game marked the fifth 20-plus point effort for him this year.
Young is also shooting a career-best 44.9 percent from beyond the arc, and had entered the game ranked seventh in the NBA in 3-point percentage.
Fast Break Points
One aspect of defense that has continued to plague the Lakers all through the first quarter of the season has been their porous play against points in transition.
That same problem reared its ugly head against the Suns on Sunday as they allowed 26 fast break points. This included at least seven fast break points in each of the first three quarters of the game.
Although Los Angeles allowed just two points in the fourth quarter, their difficulties against defending the fast break are well-documented as they entered the game ranking 27th in that category at 15.1 points allowed per game.
It is one area that the team will need to continue to work on in order to help turn the tide around from their early season struggles.
Jeremy Lin lights it up
Lin had his best offensive performance in the past couple of weeks on Sunday with a 19-point effort on an efficient 8-of-11 shooting with two assists, three rebounds, one steal, and two blocks in 26 minutes played.
The 26-year-old made his mark on the game in the second half with 12 points, which included seven points in the fourth quarter. He had the proper balance of aggressiveness and was decisive with his shot by taking the looks that were presented to him.
Lin credited much of his offensive performance to the small lineup that Suns play with that in his eyes provided him with opportunities to exploit.
“I just tried to stay aggressive. They played really small so that was a big reason,” Lin said. “When they go small it’s because they want to spread the floor and attack on the offensive standpoint. That leaves holes in the defense, and we tried to exploit that as much as we could.”
Lin also believes that Sunday’s game is something that he can build off, and still feels that he can do much more.
“I can definitely build on this. I think there’s more that I can still do, and there’s more that I can still show,” Lin said. “I think tonight is definitely a step in the right direction, but if you talk about reaching my full potential there’s still more that I can do.”
His contributions off the bench will be an important factor every game, and without it puts more of an onus on the rest of the bench to pick up the slack. Lin plays in a major role, and he is a vital piece to the team’s success.
Third quarter woes
If there is one area the Lakers must improve in more than anything else, it is defending better in the third quarter.
This was quite evident against the Suns, who scored 33 points on 56.5 percent shooting with Bledsoe leading the way with 16 points. This offensive outburst allowed for them to stretch their lead to as many as eight points, and ultimately tilt the game in their favor.
“They’re a very streaky team,” Ed Davis said. “They make runs and they build off momentum and that’s how they play. They made a couple of runs that we weren’t able to sustain, and that came back to bit us at the end.”
Defense has been a driving point for Scott to the team this season, but it is starting to get the appearance that this will remain a constant theme. That said, if they can start playing better defensively coming out of halftime, it could go a long ways to solving this persistent issue.
Photo Credit:Wally Skaij / Los Angeles Times
Bob Garcia IV
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