The tough words Kobe Bryant directed at Serge Ibaka, this week, should have been reserved for the Lakers' lackluster defense. On Tuesday, Bryant claimed that if Serge Ibaka had taken a swipe at his man region, he would have popped Ibaka in the mouth. Last night, the Thunder took Kobe's words, threw them in his face and slapped LA's defense around the court.
Durant tallied a ho-hum 26 points but Westbrook blew past the Lakers perimeter defenders like he was dribbling through a cone drill and finished with 37 points.
In the past, Howard has referred to himself as Superman and Iron Man. He was brought to LA to improve their defense. This season, he’s either been locked inside of Superman’s phone booth or he’s decided to imitate the Invisible Man. On Tuesday night, Howard threw on his invisibility cloak and went 1-for-7 from the field for a grand total of six points, fouled out and was a complete non-factor with zero blocks. Offensively, the Thunder outscored the Lakers by 30 in the paint.
Sixteen boards for Howard were decorative ornaments for the box score, but he was completely ineffective. Although, Bryant could have used a little backup on offense, you could argue Howard has been deserted on the defensive end. While the 122 points surrendered to Oklahoma City gives an idea of how utterly inept the Lakers were defensively, Oklahoma City’s NBA-record low of two turnovers speaks volumes.
Shadow League member and ESPN columnist Scoop Jackson believes the Lakers don’t deserve to make the playoffs. LA may sneak past Utah or the defensively anemic Rockets into the playoffs, but D'Antoni and the Lakers missing D should have Lakers fans longing for the days of Mike Brown’s ugly, slowdown offensive philosophy. D’Antoni’s up-tempo pace and personnel aren’t getting it done against the Western Conference elite.
For the second time in a week, the Lakers came across as geriatrics mall-walking in transition while the Thunder galloped out of the blocks like the Jamaican 4×100 relay team. The tempo played in Oklahoma City’s favor as they outscored L.A. 22-6 in transition.
Earlier in the season, a reporter needled an irritated D'Antoni on how little time he was allegedly spending teaching defense. Unfair or not, the Lakers defensive communication and execution has been atrocious to watch. It's understandable that Howard would be up at night texting with Phil Jackson, who recently criticized D'Antoni's use of the 28-year-old center. D'Antoni's golden ticket, Steve Nash, is Patrick Swayze on the defensive end. He can't touch opposing guards.
With Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill out, Antawn Jamison’s offensive productivity has spiked, but the 14-year veteran, whom Mitch Kupchak admitted was a defensive liability during his introductory press conference, is playing major minutes and getting brutalized by opposing forwards. Metta World Peace's Defensive Player of the Year prime years are behind him and his lack of lateral quickness has turned him into a speed bump on the perimeter. Tuesday night, Westbrook even turned Bryant into a turnstile.
Scoop was wrong. This squad deserves to make the playoffs, but despite Bryant's reassuring guarantees, there's no title coming in 2013. As a Lakers fan, I can’t defend this team anymore. But we're a match made in heaven because neither can they.