The Los Angeles Lakers loss to the West-leading Oklahoma City Thunder, 102-93, at home on Thursday night was not surprising after the tumultuous week the Lakers had. That does make it their third home loss in their last four home games. It seems only fitting for the Lakers to lose in Derek Fisher’s first return to Staples Center as a member of the Thunder, the Lakers losing to one of their leaders in the wake of their own leadership issues this week.
Three things have gone all too wrong for the Lakers. Putting Ramon Sessions into the starting lineup has not only resulted in several losses, but a loss of bench production—that Sessions was creating when he came in with the second unit.
Most people, including myself, saw the trade for Sessions leading to him having a starting position. But, after watching Sessions dramatically improve one of the worst benches in the NBA and the Lakers losing games—home games—as Sessions creates chemistry with the starters, it made me question his effectiveness as a starter. Obviously, Sessions is an excellent point guard, worthy of starting—that is not the issue. The Lakers, however, have suffered from a weak bench all season (after losing Lamar Odom). Sessions, for a short period, made the Lakers’ bench formidable again. With him in the starting lineup, the bench is back to where they were—ineffective.
Whatever the Lakers do—and they will probably continue to start Sessions—they should have noted the fast break chemistry between Matt Barnes and Sessions. Those two should be on the court together all the time. Moreover, those easy buckets Barnes makes get him in-rhythm for his three-point shots.
Sessions to Barnes:
Coach Mike Brown is doing his job—and doing it well—but he caught a fiery wave of criticism after benching Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum in the fourth quarters of consecutive games.
Bynum’s ill-advised three-point shot:
After seeing Bynum shoot a three-pointer early in the shot clock, Brown benched him, allowing Bynum to play only 5 minutes in the second half. Bynum’s body language reeked of immaturity—laughing on the bench, joking about his three-point form, and not joining in team huddles during timeouts. By all accounts, this was a wise move by Brown—benching an unfocused All-Star and still winning the game.
The same cannot be said for the night before when Brown benched Kobe Bryant late in the fourth quarter. Bryant’s benching, also, came after an ill-advised shot. And, no offense to Kobe—quite the opposite—but he’s made a career taking and making tough, almost impossible, maybe ill-advised, shots. Brown should have a chat with Phil Jackson about why, as a coach, you kind of have to let Kobe do his thing. I mean, he’s going to anyway, whether you like it or not. That’s also the type of hard-headedness and determination that leaves somebody like Bryant with a handful of championship rings.
So, Brown is doing the right thing, trying to coach and challenge Bynum, but a 5-time Champion in his 16th season? What is even more confusing is that Brown never explained his benching of Kobe. He said “I felt like a had to make a move” and variations on that, but that does not explain why someone would take out arguably the best closer in NBA basketball with about five minutes left in a game.
The Lakers look like a team with the potential to make a title-push, but everything would have to fall into place—the rotations, the players, the bench, and they’ll need a little luck along the way. But, the Lakers have their own issues to work out if they want to have a chance to meet up with the Thunder in the playoffs.
Rob S. De France is a College and University instructor of English Composition living in Los Angeles. He has a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Rhetoric, Composition, and Writing. De France has played, coached, and officiated competitive high school basketball in California for many years. Recently, De France, his wife, and another colleague started an internationally read magazine at Shwibly.com.