Lakers debate value of five-game swing one week before playoffs
Ever since last week, the Lakers had literally started from scratch. Instead of trying to expedite the chemistry process, the team went over fundamentals. Instead of overly concerning itself with matchups and scouting reports, the team worked on being more efficient. Instead of worrying about the opponent's offensive tendencies, the team worried more about sharpening its defensive rotations.
Surely with five games remaining in the regular season, it's fair to say it's unusually late to start keying in on basic concepts. But the Lakers readily acknowledged they had tried speeding up the chemistry process after finally playing with more urgency. Perhaps a consequence of playing without that fire has been the Lakers' feeling frustrated they can't quickly turn on a switch. Hence, the team is starting from square one.
The Lakers play their five remaining games in a little less than a week, starting with a back-to-back Thursday and Friday at Denver and Minnesota and ending with three games next week -- Sunday against Portland, Tuesday against Sacramento and Wednesday against the Clippers. Lakers guards Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Coach Phil Jackson remained split on whether that schedule helps or hurts the Lakers' development process.
"At this point, I don't think it matters," Bryant said. "You play a lot of games and get a chance to get in a good rhythm. When you get a lot of space in between games, you get to work on a lot of things. If you have a lot of games, which we do, you just work on fine-tuning things and getting rest."
"No," Jackson said. "I'm looking forward to it," before adding that matchups against Denver and Portland will help because those are two possible playoff opponents.
Said Fisher: "Somewhat against. Limits practice time."
Of course, the sometimes lacking practice time had long been an issue the Lakers thought slowed down the team's chemistry. That's why the Lakers found last Thursday's practice so integral to the team's 106-92 victory over the Utah Jazz the following night, noticing the basics the team emphasized on the triangle offense and defensive discipline helped spur a balanced offense and an effective defense against the Jazz. The Lakers were quickly reminded in a 100-81 loss Sunday to the San Antonio Spurs, however, that this redevelopment process can't happen overnight.
It's an interesting conundrum. The Lakers put themselves in this position largely because of their lack of urgency, as well as the assorted injuries, inconsistent pick-and-roll defense and bench support. Now that the Lakers have played with more urgency in the past three games, the team has grown frustrated the turnaround hasn't happened so quickly. Aside from the San Antonio loss, the Lakers capped off a 2-3 trip with a loss to Atlanta, perhaps the only defeat in that trip where the team put on a full effort.
"It's a natural tendency to short-cut things," Jackson said. "You know how we are as people. We try to take the easy route and eliminate the extra steps sometimes. It's the execution that counts in basketball. You have to reassert that."
Following that approach has been easier said than done, especially with center Andrew Bynum's missing eight consecutive games because of a strained left Achilles' tendon, an absence that may be prolonged through the regular season. With Bryant (27.1 points), Lakers forward Pau Gasol (17.8 points) and Bynum (15 points) leading the team in scoring, Fisher has thought that the team largely depended on those three camouflaging the team's inconsistent offense. It's understandable because of the talent level and matchup advantages those three can bring. But now that Bynum is out, the absence has further exposed the team's weaknesses just at the time the Lakers had hoped to be playing at their peak.
"When things aren't happening the way you want them to, you start getting in a funk and you start thinking, What is it?, Fisher said. "Why is this is not working? What our coaching staff is trying to get us to do and what we've talked about is getting back to the basics."
-- Mark Medina
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