Defensive chemistry and cohesion
It kind of flew under the radar last season, but the Lakers didn't play particularly exceptional defense during the 2006-2007 season.
No, you get out of town, because it's true.
So with T-Minus one week and counting before the Oct. 30th regular season kick off, a large focus has been devoted towards preventing opponents from scoring like those "Entourage" dudes at an Ecstasy party. Thoughts on bettering the purple and gold lock down were shared by three different Lakers. The first, Kobe Bryant, has been named to the All-Defense team seven times (most recently last season with a first team bid). The second, Derek Fisher, has gone unnamed heading into his twelfth season, but gained a defensive rep via scrappy hustle and taking a zillion charges. The third, Luke Walton, could very well play the rest of his career without receiving a single defensive team vote. But the trio share a common bond when it comes to isolating the central need when it comes to being less of a sieve:
Better team D.
"We're doing better," said Bryant of the Lakers' collective defensive prowess. "It's something we're all focusing on. We had a good practice today. It has to be a consistent thing, something that we really take to heart. It's going to be a consistent theme until we do something about it." Along with a theme, it's also the key in Kobe's eyes when it comes to making any progress this season. "A lot of (the improvement) has to be on the defensive end, if not all of it."
When I asked Kobe about what he looked to improve upon for himself when it comes to better D, the man might be Nike paid, but his answer was strictly Adidas. As T-Mac, KG or Timmy would say, it takes five. "Helping us out as a unit," explained Kobe. "As a group, that's how you win ball games. You don't win it on individual defense against good teams. You win it as a whole, so that's why we've been working with the guys on rotations and help side defense." So to some degree, as I offered, success is about being greater than the sum of your parts. "It has to be that way," nodded Kobe. "If you want to do anything in the playoffs, you have to have a good unit and defensive effort."
Walton concurred when asked the same question, citing his and the team's desire to better rotate, double team and generally clog up the paint, with everyone working on the same page. "If you look at all the great defensive teams in the league, they all play a five man (attack). You know what you're gonna get every night you play them. So as far as I'm concerned, you gotta be out there talking. You can't let down help side (defense), because if we're denying wings and something gets back door, that guy looks bad, even though it's not his responsibility. So just being out there talking, communicating, letting people where they have to be."
One of those chief yappers is Fisher, a familiar presence that Walton already sees making a wordy difference. "Fish has done a great job bringing guys together since he's been back." Along with advising teammates on where to go, he's also good when it comes to offering general advice on what needs to be done. "I think defensively, we still have a long ways to go, even though it's the preseason. We still haven't quite figured out how to get things accomplished, but I think lot of that can come from playing so many guys, so many different groups and combinations, just to understand how to cover for each other, how to protect each other on the floor."
Unfortunately, there's a lot to learn and in Phil Jackson's eyes, his boys kind of... well... haven't. "We're real weak," said the Zen Master when asked about rotations and help D. "We're real young. We don't recognize things early. There's some hesitation. Some guys aren't reacting well." And unfortunately, the league's fan-friendly nature isn't helping the Lakers make much headway. "We had an NBA certified-designated-compulsory 'Fan Appreciation Day,' so we had to have an entertaining practice instead of a boring rotation practice. And we've been playing in a lot of games, so we really haven't practiced it in about five days and these kids need that remedial learning a lot, so you need to go back and forth over it a lot. We got it back in today, but we'll see how much of it we can get done the rest of the week."
A few general notes
Fisher gave an update on his daughter, Tatum, who's receiving treatment for a rare form of eye cancer. Everything is going well and she seems to be taking her situation in stride. "It's been inconvenient for her more than anybody, obviously. Going through everything she's been through. But she seems to just kind of deal with it. She wakes up and she's the same girl as she was the day before." For Fish, that's as good as it gets. "Every day I wake up and I see her face, it's a great day."
I asked Phil if the training camp injuries have made it tough to name a starting five. "It's been difficult. Chris (Mihm) has some things banged up and he wasn't able to practice today. He had a tough go of it out there (yesterday). Kwame (Brown) is starting to come along a little bit. Luke was out the second half yesterday. Those are the small things that are happening." Phil did offer two positively tinged notes, though. He mentioned that Lamar Odom just got his final check up, which might provide an idea of when he could be available to start practicing at game-level speed and contact. Plus, the reminder that everything is all relative. "We're in better shape than we were last year at this time. We had Kobe out and Kwame out."
Kobe was asked about his seven turnovers last night, along with his general tendency to cough up the rock throughout the preseason. "In the preseason, you experiment a little bit, see who can do what. Throw lobs you wouldn't necessarily throw in the regular season, passes that you normally wouldn't make during the regular season. This is preseason basketball. You gotta experiment a little bit. Try something new and see who can do what." For those who choose to lose sleep over it, I'm not one to tell a fan how to go about his or her business. But the Mamba ain't fretting the situation.
In addition to Chris Mihm, Walton also didn't practice. He strained his hip on Saturday and thought the pain would go away, but further aggravated it during last night's action. If need be, Luke could have played during the second half of last night's game, but everyone thought it would be better if he rested. He's day-to-day for now and isn't sure if he'll play tomorrow in Anaheim.
And finally, the quote of the afternoon:
"We're really happy that it's only a week left. It's, what do they say, kind of like kissing your sister." - Phil Jackson, expressing his thoughts on preseason basketball in general.