Frustrated. Disappointed. Angry. The Lakers brought out a cornucopia of negative emotions from me with their dismal Game 6 performance. They started the game by digging themselves a 17-1 hole that they would never emerge from. Credit the Rockets for not rolling over when everyone (myself included) was already talking about how L.A. matched-up against Denver. Fault the Lakers for thinking the Rockets would.
Collectively, there is no question that the Lakers deserve an F for their effort in this one. If there was a grade lower than an F, I’d give them that. But I’m not satisfied with just one blanket grade for this lackluster performance, so let me go down the line and assess the Lakers roster one-by-one.
Phil Jackson: D
He can only do so much to preach to his team about not having a letdown game. My gripe with Jackson is his lineup decisions. Farmar should play the bulk of the point guard minutes against the speedy Aaron Brooks. Shannon Brown should be the primary matchup against Kyle Lowry, and Fisher should only see spot minutes filling in. I also don’t want to see any more Luke Walton or Josh Powell in this series.
Kobe Bryant: B-
He may be the only Laker that I trust to bring it every night (excluding the second half of Game 7 vs. Phoenix in 2006). Still, he was hardly at his best last night. The careless turnover he had trying to feed the post in the third quarter was a momentum killer after the Lakers had cut the deficit to two. He also needs to resist the temptation to go for the FU-jumpers Battier wants him to take and instead make a commitment to getting into the paint and onto the free throw line for some easy points and/or kick-out opportunities to spot-up shooters.
Derek Fisher: F
Derek Fisher is past his prime. OK, fair enough. I don’t expect major statistical production from him anymore. And I don’t expect him to be able to defend quick point guards like Aaron Brooks. (You hear that, Phil?) Still, as the only Laker besides Kobe with any championship rings, I expect certain intangible benefits from him as a veteran leader of this team. Jacking up pull-up jumpers in transition, missing open 3s, and forcing the issue on offense before any offensive rebounders are in position are not among the things he should be bringing to the table. Is it a coincidence that L.A. won the game he was suspended in this series? I’m not so sure it is.
Pau Gasol: D
It is simply unacceptable for Pau Gasol, an All-NBA selection to be outplayed by the likes of Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, and Carl Landry. Unacceptable. No one epitomizes the soft problems more than Gasol. Don’t get me wrong, the Lakers need him. But they need him to step up and be someone they can run the offense through, especially given the injury status of the Rockets’ front line.
Lamar Odom: C+
Odom is the individual player most like this Lakers team. He is so ridiculously talented that there is little he cannot do, but you never know what version is going to show up from game to game. For being the only Laker that seemed to want to rebound the ball in Game 6, and doing so with a severely bruised back, I’m giving him one of the few decent grades.
Andrew Bynum: F
Where did you go, Andrew Bynum? The man that was supposed to be a key cog in the Lakers’ attack after returning from injury has yet to fit back in. He used to be good for a few dunks, offensive rebounds, and shot blocks per game. Now he looks lost on offense and fouls like Greg Oden on defense. He’s young enough to have time to redeem himself, but it’s looking less and less like that will happen this year—let alone this series.
Trevor Ariza: C-
He was a key contributer to the Lakers’ brief sign of life in the third quarter, getting a steal and dunk and then connecting on a 3. Unfortunately, his supposed role of defensive stopper isn’t getting much press considering the workmanlike job the Rockets’ Shane Battier is doing on Kobe.
Jordan Farmar: C+
He may have been the only Laker to make a positive impact on the first half. Then when he finally got some fourth quarter minutes in place of Jackson, his impact lessened. I still think he needs to get more time in Game 7, though as his energy and quickness is needed.
Shannon Brown: C
The most consistent player off the L.A. bench this postseason didn’t do much good or bad for the team in this one.
Sasha Vujacic: F
One of the team’s most deadly weapons off the bench last season, Vujacic hasn’t shot the ball well all season, and this series is no different. His inability to hit shots has cut into his playing time and allowed the Houston defenders to sag into the paint against Kobe.
Luke Walton: D-
Walton is noted for his basketball IQ, but I frown every time I see him on the floor. He’s become an offensive liability and he’s not much better on the defensive end.
DJ Mbenga: D
I realize he didn’t play, but DJ deserves a “D” because defensive intensity is the one thing he brings to this team. If he were on the Rockets, he’d likely be seeing some playing time filling in for the injured Yao and Mutombo. And he’d probably be outworking Gasol, Bynum, and Odom, too.
Josh Powell: D-
As the roster replacement for Ronny Turiaf, Powell gave them some quality performances during the regular season, showing that he could be a reliable pick-and-pop player. But his deficiencies have surfaced in the playoffs. Unlike Turiaf, Powell is a low-key guy. Turiaf brought a feistiness and energy that this team seems to lack. Turiaf was also a better post defender and stronger rebounder. I was sad to see him go when he did, but I really didn’t miss him until now as he’d be the perfect answer to counter the Rockets’ Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry.
Adam Morrison: INCOMPLETE
In need of comic relief? Take a look at the 2006 NBA Draft. Morrison was chosen third overall yet he’s spent the series in a suit watching picks 24-26 play meaningful minutes right before his eyes. I don’t know If Morrison will ever matter as a Laker, but I’m at least intrigued to see if watching the playoffs from close up has an effect on him next season.