Poll question: What should the Lakers' goal be for the rest of the season?
Recently, some of the Lakers have shared their specific goals for the remainder of the season. Center Andrew Bynum has said the team should strive for 60 total wins, meaning the Lakers (49-18) must win 11 of their remaining 15 games of the regular season. Forward Ron Artest set the bar higher, saying the "main goal" should be winning all the remaining games. Guard Kobe Bryant and Coach Phil Jackson haven't mentioned specific numbers but have said the team must sharpen its execution as the season winds down.
Bryant talked about execution recently with Bill Plaschke. The Times columnist asked Bryant, who bailed out the Lakers last week in a 109-107 victory over the Toronto Raptors, how he would assess the team's hunger level."I think what we have to do right now is focus on execution," Bryant said. "What happens is you get so wrapped up in the length of the season and wanting to win a championship that you overlook the small things."
That's intriguing because the Lakers organization has long taken pride in maintaining a big-picture perspective, something that's instrumental to Jackson's 10 rings but also something the team seems to use as an excuse to mask their lacking sense of urgency at certain points during the season. With the Lakers' 124-121 win Monday over the Golden State Warriors -- a night that featured a season-high 24 turnovers and shoddy interior and pick-and-roll defense -- it seemed a good time to take something away that was big picture.
Yet Bryant said on a night like Monday, you just want to get "out of here with a win." Speaking to NBA.com's Geoff Lepper, he said, "You're not going to see anything remotely close to (the Warriors' style) in the playoffs. Not even close. So there's nothing you can gauge in this game. You just get out of here with a win and move on."
Bryant has a point that no team plays like the Warriors. As I mentioned in the game recap, Golden State's relentless up-tempo strategy doesn't always mean a win, but they cause other teams headaches. Credit the Lakers a little bit for finally adjusting after halftime by playing a deliberate half-court set and effectively neutralizing Golden State's tempo until, of course, the Warriors came back in the final minutes.
The Lakers' game against Golden State wasn't an aberration. Their games aren't serving as steppingstones in their development. After mailing it in against Philadelphia two weeks ago, the team showed some physical toughness against Denver. Instead of building on that performance against Indiana, the Lakers slogged through the beginning before suddenly using their talent to overwhelm the Pacers.
Then there was another loss to Orlando, but the Lakers at least played with effort. Not so in the following game against Toronto. But in last week's road win against Phoenix, it appeared that despite examples of shoddy execution the Lakers were turning the corner. Artest suggested as much. The victory came against a playoff-caliber opponent outside the friendly confines of Staples Center. Jackson then stressed momentum, but there wasn't any against Golden State.
As the postseason approaches, the Lakers are providing isolated snapshots of potential as well as poor habits (the 24 turnovers, as ESPN Los Angeles' Kevin Arnovitz noted, marked the 12th time in 14 games the Lakers exceeded their average turnover rate). It's not clear from the Lakers' performances whether the team will finally round into form.
Sure, there are examples of individual growth. Center Andrew Bynum has played strong in the last month with three double doubles and double digit performances in six of the last seven games. Lakers forward Pau Gasol appears to be playing with more confidence after going through a dry spell earlier in the month. And it appears Bryant's poor shooting after returning from his left ankle sprain is a thing of the past. There are also some challenges that are beyond the Lakers' control. The Times' Mike Bresnahan documented all the players who are dealing with hand injuries, including Bryant (right index finger), Ron Artest (left thumb), Shannon Brown (right thumb), Jordan Farmar (left pinkie) and Lamar Odom (middle and index fingers, something he still fought through valiantly against Golden State).
Bresnahan recently pitched the idea that the Lakers should establish different benchmarks for the remaining 15 games to keep themselves motivated -- and so they could concentrate on the little things, as Bryant suggested. "The Lakers need to do goals, almost week to week now," Bresnahan said in a recent roundtable discussion. Phil Jackson "needs to lessen the scope of winning a championship to keep this team interested for the next six weeks."
And though Bynum and Artest listed a few tangible goals, not to mention the standings race, it remained unclear exactly what the Lakers were shooting for before the playoffs began.
What do you think the Lakers' goals should be? Vote in the poll below and elaborate in the comments section below.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Golden State guard Monta Ellis scramble for a loose ball during their game Monday night. Credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images.