Lakers measure their frustration level after 2-3 trip
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson joked that the team's recent 2-3 trip simply was a product of what he called "March Madness." And thankfully for the Lakers apparently, that month has passed.
"We're glad it's April," Jackson said. "We can all be fools."
Well at least for one day. After a 2-3 trip that presented visible frustrations, most notably with guard Kobe Bryant, forward Pau Gasol didn't see that angst boil over into Thursday's practice.
"It was good," Gasol said. "Everybody was dragging out a little bit, but once we got out on the floor and we started working on stuff, we got loose and into it."
So those wondering if the Lakers were going to rip each other's heads off after coming home can be relieved.
"We're not playing the way we'd like to play," guard Derek Fisher said. "But we're not going to allow that to bubble over and beocme something that derails us from still where we're trying to go."
There's not a lot of time for the Lakers to correct those problems with seven games remaining, including one Friday against the Utah Jazz. Beyond the news that Luke Walton will likely return for Sunday's game against San Antonio, Andrew Bynum's exact timetable in recovering from his left Achilles' tendon injury is far from definitive, and with Jackson being noncommittal on whether he'd change the bench's rotation (aside from Sasha Vujacic of course), much of the post-practice interviews involved how the team can correct their problems without overreacting.
And the exact approach on how to deal with that reality is certainly a fine line. But it's something that isn't necessarily new. The Lakers dealt with this issue all month, going through a three-game road losing streak, a seven-game winning streak that was only impressive in the win column and recently the team's 2-3 trip.
Gasol acknowledged the possibility that part of the Lakers' struggles had to do with the fact that the Lakers (54-21) have a comfortable four-game lead over Dallas (50-25), a 4-1/2-game edge over Utah (50-26), a five-game cushion over Phoenix (49-26) and a six-game advantage over Denver (48-27). He didn't downplay the notion that the team may had lost interest in pursuing Cleveland (59-16) for the league's best record.
"Maybe if we had Dallas, Denver or Utah one game behind us," Gasol said, "we would have more of a sense of urgency and said, 'Guys, we need to win this game. There's no other option.' Maybe. It's hard for me to say."
Fisher thought otherwise, arguing "I don't think it's because we want to just cruise into the playoffs and then think we can just push a button and then turn it on. Guys are genuinely concerned, frustrated and want to turn things around."
With exception to the Atlanta game, it appeared on the film that the Lakers' performance fit the way Gasol described it, as that lack of urgency. Of course, there have been plenty of other variables involved what with Bynum's injury, the offensive chemistry, the defensive rotations, ball handling and the inconsistent bench. But the team's frustration level in fighting through those challenges appeared to show the team giving up in trying to correct the problem, with the emotions getting the best of them.
Regardless, Gasol and Fisher correctly noted that it's misguided to think the Lakers can simply turn the switch on and correct all the aforementioned problems.
"That's what we're finding where some of the frustration is coming from," Fisher said. "I think we genuinely believe that we're not sitting around and waiting to get better before the playoffs start. We want to get better, but there is a process. There are times where we've taken a step forward and times where we've gotten knocked back."
Everyone said the right things in recognizing the problem. That may make for great sound and copy, but it will be telling to see whether the Lakers follow what they preach. These seven remaining games won't "tell the future," Fisher observed on how the Lakers will fare in the playoffs. But it's getting to that point where time is running out for the team to turn things around.
-- Mark Medina