LOS ANGELES — A year after trades, coaching changes and plenty of zaniness, the Lakers find themselves in the exact same position — down 2-0 in the second round of the NBA Playoffs.
At home for the next two games, L.A. will be trying to avoid another sweep — Dallas had the broom last season — after a pair of losses in Oklahoma City, one an embarrassing blowout in Game 1; the other a heartbreaking last-second defeat in a game they seemingly had put away with a solid defensive effort for 46 minutes. Turnovers and defensive missteps, though, made those last two minutes a killer.
However, the Lakers did regain their defensive mojo, forcing the Thunder into uncomfortable shot attempts that nearly led to OKC hitting the road in a tied-up series rather than with a two-games-to-none lead.
Coach Mike Brown has repeatedly lamented his club’s lack of focus and effort on defense after just about every game the Lakers have played the last month — win or loss. One of the top defensive teams in the NBA for the first three-quarters of the season, L.A. has allowed 100-plus points in four of nine playoffs games, a stat which drives the defensive-oriented Brown a bit crazy.
“I don’t know what’s happened to us over the last month or so,” Brown said. “You can’t just point to one reason or one situation to explain it. All I know is that it has to get better or this could be a short postseason.”
Kobe Bryant, annually one of the top defensive players in the league, feels the defense stepped up, but the team still needs to work on other things to turn around the series.
“We (figured it out) defensively and we know what we have to (continue) to do,” Bryant said. “They’ll be ready and do different things out there, move guys around on the floor, and we have to be ready for that.
“But we also just turned the ball over too much, which enabled them to get back in the game. Can’t do that (Friday) night. We’ve got to have constant communication between (ourselves) and with the coaching staff.”
Bryant went on to say that even though the Lakers have more experience in terms of years in the league, the Thunder has actually been together longer than L.A.
“They’ve been playing as a team much longer than we have,” he said following Thursday’s practice. “So, like I said earlier, we have to keep the lines of communication open on almost every play.
“We lost, and you never like to lose, but we made adjustments and we’ll be ready (Friday) night. But we’ll just move forward and be ready for the next game.
“I’ve been here before and I (talked to) the guys. We’ll be ready to go (Friday).”
And then again on Saturday, which could cause the older Lakers some problems, As it might with the aging Spurs versus the Clippers. Back-to-back playoff games don’t seem to be fair for teams with the older rosters, but Metta World Peace says it doesn’t matter at all.
“Everybody has to play the same schedule — OKC and the Lakers,” World Peace said. “So it’s not like we have to do anything more than (they) have to do.
“We have to win.”
World Peace, who’s led the defensive resurgence for the Lakers since his return from a seven-game suspension for elbowing OKC’s James Harden late in the regular season, says the close loss will prove to be a motivating factor as they move forward.
“We played better,” he said. “And (despite losing) its the playoffs and it’s a seven-game series. We just have to go out and play like we can. We’re all together on this team; we don’t criticize each other. The fans and the media might say negative things, but we don’t blame each other in here. If we do what we did (Wednesday night), we’ll be OK.”