LOS ANGELES — Another Lakers’ game Sunday night and another performance devoid of defensive energy and intensity, resulting in a 117-110 loss to the Utah Jazz at Staples Center.
“We’re just not very good right now,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. That’s the understatement of the season.
This Lakers team, which was supposed to be a legitimate title hopeful, is barely a playoff contender. Its record is 9-12, with three losses in the last four games. Now the Lakers pack their bags for a four-games-in-five-days road trip that could be devastating for a team playing as poorly as they are right now. Steve Nash won’t be available as he continues to recover from a fractured left leg, and Pau Gasol’s tendinitis-ridden knees will be re-examined in Cleveland on Tuesday, but it’s unlikely that he’ll be available for at least a few more games.
It’s only 22 games into the season, but the squad is regressing — especially on defense.
“Again tonight, like in Oklahoma City, in the second quarter we got out-run,” D’Antoni said. “They got fast break after fast break. Too many fast-break points, especially in the first half.
“The offense wasn’t the problem tonight. There’s no excuse for giving up 117 points, or 35 and 40-point quarters. There’s no excuse for not running back on defense. None.”
Yet that’s what keeps happening with this team night after night. Kobe Bryant, who led all scorers with 34 points, says it’s a problem that has to end now.
“It’s definitely a problem,” Bryant said, “because anytime you give away a game it inevitably comes back at the end of the year and it bites you. That’s the second game in a row that we’ve given up too many fast-break points.”
Bryant said despite the fact that the team — according to D’Antoni — doesn’t communicate well on the court or pick up each other on the defensive end of the floor, the team gets along just fine.
“We’re just not playing well,” Kobe said. “The chemistry’s not bad. They had 54 points in the paint coming from layups. We just have to have better defensive balance and have two guys back at all times. But the chemistry is fine.”
Maybe so, but it isn’t translating into the improvement that’s necessary for the Lakers to turn around their bad season. So there has to be some other problem, doesn’t there?
“When somebody helps, then somebody else has to help the helper,” said Dwight Howard, the principal victim of the Lakers not helping out on defense.
One of the great defensive big men in history, Howard is always looking to take on someone who beats one of his teammates and tries to come down low. But rarely have any other Lakers stepped up to account for the player Howard would have been guarding, thus the easy points underneath.
“That’s how we get beat,” said a frustrated Howard, who had 11 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks. “It’s the same story every time we’ve lost. We’ve got to help each other.”
And it’s up to the coaching staff to make it happen.
“We’ll just keep talking to them about it, showing them on video what’s happening,” D’Antoni. “Then they’ve just got to go out and do it.
“We haven’t had a gut-checking moment yet. Soon, we’re going to have to draw a line in the sand, and we’re going to have to fight.
“Somehow we’ve got to play tougher.”
1. As mentioned here many times, D’Antoni continues to preach the gospel of Steve Nash and how things will get better and the obvious problems — no defense, lack of energy — will just disappear. Well, they won’t, no matter when Nash comes back. Especially the horrible effort on defense that takes place nearly every game the Lakers play. It’s as if the players — with the exception of Howard and Metta World Peace — don’t care if they stop the other team from scoring. They just want the ball back so they can try to score. At least that’s how it looks. And it’s even affected one of the game’s great defenders. Kobe is still an amazing offensive weapon; defensively he’s in a streak of bad performances that are an oddity when you look at his overall career. If he has the energy to put up the shots and run the offense, why isn’t he stopping his opposing assignment? It seems like the lackadaisical effort of many of his teammates has rubbed off on Bryant as well.
2. Nash continues to work out but without doing much of anything that puts game-like stress on his fractured left leg. The Lakers have always had a tremendous medical staff, but they have to be wondering if something was missed on the MRIs that have been taken. Nash was expected to be back 10 days ago. Right now it’s looking like his return might be a Christmas present for Laker fans.
3. Even though he’s out with tendinitis in his knees, Pau Gasol is still hearing criticism from fans and some of the media. A sub-headline in the L.A. Times Sunday asked if Gasol was out with bad knees or hurt feelings? Reminder to the masses — you don’t become a four-time All-Star, an integral member of two NBA champion teams and an Olympic hero by acting childish and letting your emotions control your professionalism. Yes, he’s having a bad year. But when you look at his track record, you can bet it’s his knees and not a bruised ego that has him on the bench.