Three things the Lakers need to end losing streak Wednesday at New Orleans
1. Reestablish leadership
One of the Lakers' most admirable qualities over the past two seasons is their ability to remain calm during adverse moments and to avoid most of the drama that plagues plenty of teams, including the Lakers' three-peat squads earlier this decade.
The Lakers (21-10) suffered their second three-game losing streak this season and enter Wednesday night's game against New Orleans with myriad problems, and without much time to fix them. The first important area to sharpen entails the Lakers' leadership. After offering a scathingly accurate review of the team's effort in the Christmas Day loss to Miami, guard Kobe Bryant didn't exactly back up his words the right away. He brought the same intensity to open the game Tuesday against San Antonio, scoring eight of the team's first 10 points but then missing 13 consecutive shots. Bryant owned up to his shortcomings in not getting his teammates more involved, but those words also need to translate on the court. It'll foster more team chemistry, decrease teammate alienation and frankly make Bryant's job a whole lot easier.
But the leadership issues don't just fall on Bryant's lap. Both he and co-captain Derek Fisher set a poor example in drawing two technical fouls over George Hill's feistiness and Richard Jefferson's push from behind, respectively. Lakers forward Ron Artest recently remarked that their critiques of the team carry credibility because of their five championship rings, but losing poise and composure doesn't set the right tone for the rest of the team.
When the Lakers showed maturity and poise, many of them have pointed to Coach Phil Jackson for setting the right tone. Logic has it that the team's current collapse has to point right back at him too. Whether it's been Jackson's constant downplaying of the Miami game or his refusal even to read Bryant's critical analysis of the team, it doesn't appear Jackson's managed to keep everyone motivated and on the same page.
It's cliche to say the Lakers need an air-it-out meeting, but ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin presents convincing evidence that the team is communicating their grievances more to the media than to one another. Talking about their problems during practice and on the court doesn't have to be personal and contentious, but it should be constructive. That's something the team will need to do at tip-off Wednesday night, since the team didn't have a shoot-around earlier, which is typical on road back-to-backs.
2. Run an actual offense
There ares plenty of reasons why the Lakers have regressed in total offense, averaging 108.3 points per game in November to 98.4 points per game in December. You can pretty much note the regression this past month from player to player, including Pau Gasol (20.3 points on 54.1% shooting, 16.5 points on 46.9% shooting), Artest (8.6 points on 44.7% shooting, 6.2 points on 38.4% shooting), Derek Fisher (7.7 points on 41.5% shooting, 5.8 points on 33.3% shooting), Steve Blake (5.4 points on 41.7% shooting, 4.2 points on 32.2% shooting) and Shannon Brown (11.1 points on 48% shooting, 9.2 points on 40.6%). The reasons for all the statistical drop-offs, ranging from Gasol's fatigue and indecisiveness, Artest's discomfort with the triangle and his decreased role, Fisher's forced shots, Blake's passiveness and Brown's streakiness.
An easy way to improve their numbers entails going back to offensive fundamentals and ensuring constant ball movement, cutting and timely passing. The Lakers adopted that strategy at the beginning of the season but soon took shortcuts out of laziness and false comfort. With the system not working, the Lakers are still avoiding following the fundamentals out of frustration. Whether it was Bryant's forced shots (the Lakers are 16-3 when he attempts under 20 shots), the team's eight-of-23 mark from three-point range or the team's refusal to set up Andrew Bynum, who had an efficient 10 points on four of four shooting, the Lakers are all playing as individuals and trying to shoot their way out of a problem rather than running basic concepts.
3. Take pride in little things
Lakers forward Lamar Odom correctly observed following Monday's practice that the team has avoided mastering all the little things, a code word for hustle plays, offensive rebounds, diving for loose balls and taking charges. Odom has been largely consistent even through the Lakers' current struggles, but I couldn't help but notice a sense of irony when Odom was caught not boxing out Spurs forward DeJuan Blair on two consecutive possessions. Odom is not the only member of the guilty party.
The Lakers, like any NBA team, will feature players going through off nights. But the team so far has refused to make adjustments in finding other ways to play effectively. Instead of Gasol lamenting that the team needs to play smart basketball, he should pride himself on grabbing one offensive rebound. Instead of Bryant shooting his way out of his slump, he should accept his poor shooting stroke and instead find open teammates. Instead of the Lakers' bench continuing to shoot from the outside, they should sharpen up their entry passes into Bynum since the unit has only played seven games together.
These are some of the small things the Lakers can do to offset issues that are currently plaguing the team. Add them all together and it'll help alleviate those issues.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: The Lakers gather on the court prior to their 97-82 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday. Credit: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images.