Since Kobe Bryant snapped his Achilles tendon, the Los Angeles Lakers have played three games and won two.
In all three games, the Lakers held their opponents to under 100 points and played physical defense that was consistently absent throughout the season. Without Bryant, the Lakers held their opposition to 38.8 percent shooting from the field—for anyone wondering, that translates to good defense. In fact, the top opponent’s field goal percentage this season was Indiana at 42.0 percent.
Unfortunately, the Lakers offense has averaged 38.1 percent shooting from the field without No. 24. That is a sharp decline from the 45.8 percent the Lakers averaged over the 82-game season. The key takeaway, however, is that the Lakers have won two out of three since a snapped Achilles transformed the 102.2 points per game Lakers into the team that is averaging a shade below 90 points per game the last three times out.
Over the three Mamba-less games, the Lakers have played the Spurs twice and split the meetings based on the logo painted on the hardwood. However, regardless of the zip code, the Lakers held the Spurs to below 38 percent shooting from the field and kept the silver and black well below 100 points both times out.
The difference in the win versus the loss was not simply turnovers. In the penultimate game of the season, LA turned the ball over 14 times versus 18 times in Sunday’s Game One loss. Although 18 turnovers are not generally a formula for success, an extra four turnovers were not the difference between the win and the loss.
The notable difference was offensive rebounds. Even with the height advantage, the Lakers were unable to dominate the offensive glass in Sunday’s loss. Whereas Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard combined for 11 offensive rebounds against the Spurs on April 14, they only combined for one offensive rebound on Sunday.
Howard, by himself, had six offensive rebounds in the late season meeting. In Sunday’s loss, the Lakers combined to pull down six offensive rebounds as a team. The Spurs negated the Lakers’ twin towers on the offensive boards, and the Spurs finished nearly even in overall rebounds.
Along with reestablishing the offensive glass, the Lakers also need to shoot better than 3-15 from long-range. With Metta World Peace going 1-5 on Sunday, the Spurs’ strategy to allow World Peace open looks in place of Steve Nash, Jodie Meeks, and Antawn Jamison worked brilliantly. The trio of Lakers sharp shooters only managed four three-point attempts in Game One, so World Peace actually attempted more shots from behind the arc than the Lakers’ best three long-distance shooters.
Cutting down turnovers, hitting a few more shots, and controlling the offensive boards are three achievable goals that should result in the Lakers walking out of San Antonio with a win in Game Two.