LOS ANGELES — It was more of the same for the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night as they fell to their fifth straight loss against the red-hot San Antonio Spurs 108-95.
San Antonio got off to a strong start racing to as much as 13-point lead out in the first quarter behind 6-of-11 shooting from three-point range giving them a 31-22 lead heading into the second quarter.
The Spurs continued to remain in control through the rest of the first half with Manu Ginobili scoring eight of his first-half high 11 points and the team recorded 16 assists on 21 made field goals in the first two quarters. Jordan Clarkson led Los Angeles with 10 points in the first half while Julius Randle had six points and nine rebounds.
Ginobili led the way once again for San Antonio in the third quarter scoring seven points of game-high 20, including a buzzer-beating three-pointer near the end of the period. The Lakers trailed by double digits throughout the fourth quarter and trimmed it to just 13 with D’Angelo Russell scoring 13 out of his 18 points for the game.
The loss marks the ninth out of the last 10 games for Los Angeles. Here are five things we learned on Friday night:
Bryant quiet offensively
With the San Antonio Spurs in town, Bryant gave it a go against one of his former rivals on the 10-year anniversary of his 81-point performance as he posted just five points and dished out six assists in 27 minutes played.
it was quiet offensive night for Bryant hitting just 2-of- 9 shot attempts with most of his looks coming over the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. He didn’t get his second made field goal until five minutes left in the third quarter on a step-back corner three-pointer.
Bryant was the quite the rest of the night and didn’t take the floor in the fourth quarter with the game out of hand. Despite leaving the bench early late in the game, the 37-year-old stated he was ready to go for his last go around at the Moda Center.
Prior to Friday’s tilt, Spurs head coach Greg Popovich voiced his admiration for the Lakers guard.
“Kobe is one of those rare competitors that are fundamentally sound. He and Michael are in a class of their own,” Popovich said. “There are always some players you want to get know better and see what makes them tick. He’s one of them.”
Leonard continues to elevate his game
In his fifth season in the league, Leonard has become one of the top players in the league and arguably best two-way player with his play on both ends of the floor.
The LA native has seen significant improvement offensively this season averaging is career-highs across the board in points (20.1), assists (2.6), three-point field goal percentage (48.4), free throw percentage (88.0) and minutes (32.9).
Leonard added to his impressive campaign on Friday night by posting 18 points, which was second-highest total in the game.
It was also nothing short of solid performance defensive from the 24-year-old by shutting down Bryant for much of the night forcing him to shoot 2-of-9 for the game, including 1-of-7 in the first half.
“It’s hard stepping in and playing any NBA game,” Leonard said. “It’s always a challenge to go out there and be mentally focused and execute.”
It has been a stellar start to his fifth campaign already joining David Robinson as the only two players in Spurs history to register 800 points, 275 rebounds, and 75 steals through the first 41 games of the season.
His play this season has certainly warranted being named one of the five starters for the Western Conference All-Stars in next month’s game, which made him just the sixth player in franchise history to be named an All-Star Game starter.
All in all, Leonard is in the midst of a breakout a season to what’s been an impressive first five years of his career that has placed squarely in the conversation of best players in the league.
With Larry Nance Jr. still nursing his sore right knee, the Lakers’ second-year forward took advantage of another start in posting a double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds.
Randle got off to a solid start in the first quarter knocking down three of his first five shot attempts, including a pair of jumpers along with grabbing four rebounds. He added five more rebounds in the second quarter to give him a first-half high nine boards.
Randle rounded out his night getting his double-double on a dunk midway through the third quarter but didn’t do much in the final period.
This is coming off one of the worst shooting performance of the season hitting just 2-of-11 attempts, where most of his misses came at the rim. It wasn’t due to a lack of effort, but a tough night against a solid defender in DeMarcus Cousins.
There are going to be up and down nights from Randle due to being in what’s essentially his rookie campaign after missing all but 12 minutes of last year. There are plenty of adjustments that he still hast to make to his game, but the 21-year-old has shown he’s determined to get better.
The Los Angeles Lakers through the first half of the season have been one of worst teams defensively in the league. With that in mind, it’s also not surprising that they rank 28th in with 15.7 fast break points allowed per game.
This trend continued on Friday night allowing the Spurs to notch 28 points in transition, including 20 fast break points in the first half alone. This porous defensive performance comes just a game after giving up 26 points to the Kings on Wednesday night.
There struggles in this aspect of the game has been one of their biggest issues defensively along with defending the paint over the last couple of years. Improvement in this area comes down the to the simple fact of hustle and effort.
The Spurs entering Friday’s game were off to a historic start through the first 43 games of the year sitting at a 37-6 record, which puts them only two games behind the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
Although Golden State does possess the better overall record, San Antonio has been without the more dominant team this season. They are already the first team in NBA history to post sixteen 20-plus point wins through their first 43 games or earlier of a season and are also the first to record 12 wins by 25-plus points through that same span.
The Spurs also hold the largest point differential in the first 40 games this year (564), which bested the Lakers’ mark set in the 1971-72 season. It doesn’t appear like their strong play will slow any time soon as they are currently riding a season-high 13-game win streak and are now 8-0 in the second game of back-to-backs this season.
Much of their success could be directly correlated to their stellar defense this season allowing just 89.6 points per game, which is at least six points fewer than any other team in the league. They are also first in the league in opposing field goal percentage (42.5), and second in opponent three-point percentage (31.6)
All in all, what this shows that this year’s Spurs’ squad could be the best team that they have assembled, which could be a scary thought for the rest of the league.
Bob Garcia IV
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