Lakers credit team meeting in sparking stronger performance against New Orleans
The Lakers arrived in New Orleans fresh off an embarrassing double-digit loss to San Antonio with many concepts to sharpen, not a lot of time to go over them and too much fatigue to execute them.
The Lakers usually avoid a morning shootaround before the second game being played on successive nights for several reasons. They can sustain that energy for the game instead. They can better handle unpredictable travel schedules. And they can avoid the information-overload process that comes with so many sessions compressed between short turnarounds.
Still, the Lakers had just experienced their second three-game losing streak of the season, a stretch in which they averaged just 80.33 points and lost by an average margin of 16.67 points.
There were simply too many issues the Lakers couldn't ignore, so Coach Phil Jackson arranged a team meeting upon arrival in New Orleans that center Andrew Bynum said was long. The intention didn't entail giving a dramatic speech and chewing out players so much as it was to discuss details that had plagued the team during its losing streak. It turned out to be a significant turning point in what led to the Lakers' 103-88 victory Wednesday over the New Orleans Hornets. The dialogue could also help the Lakers (22-10) to stay sharp when they host the Philadelphia 76ers (13-19) Friday at Staples Center.
"It was important because there were a couple of things that weren't happening for us," forward Pau Gasol said after Thursday's practice in El Segundo. "When you lose three games the way we lost them, it's not a fluke. It's not just an accident one night. It's not just a bad game. It's something that is continuously happening. We had to cut it out to understand how can we change this from happening again. That's why we went back to the principles of our defense and of our offense so we can focus on that instead of trying to do too much on our own, which wasn't taking us anywhere."
Jackson shared only a small laundry list of the team's discussion. Jackson asked Bynum if he felt ready to start in Lamar Odom's place after playing first seven games as a reserve following his recovery from off-season surgery on his right knee. "I'm ready to do that," Bynum answered. Jackson also turned to Odom about the changed lineup. "I expected that," Odom said. And Jackson reminded his players that the team's identity hinges more on setting up Bynum, Gasol and Odom inside and less on firing outside shots, a point of emphasis Jackson reiterated just before tipoff.
"That's the force of our team, the length and strength of our big guys," Jackson said. "Kobe [Bryant] drives the team and has the energy of the team, but it's still about making the defense look over the shoulders and help each other out inside. Then we can attack other players."
The result: Bynum spent his first start of the season scoring 18 points on eight of 12 shooting in 30 minutes with improved conditioning, improved timing on jumps and improved health. Odom maintained the same consistency and versatility on bench, indicated with his season-high 24 points on 10 of 15 shooting, a three-pointer to end the third quarter and a nifty putback after he wrapped the ball around his back. Bryant appeared in a better mood, scored 20 points on eight of 14 shooting and didn't allow his turnovers to be significantly destructive. And the likes of Derek Fisher (nine points), Ron Artest (five) and Steve Blake (five) all shot at least 50% because of better understanding, aggression and confidence in their roles.
"Attack the game and be defensively mindful in stopping other teams, trying to compound stops," Bynum ticked off regarding the concepts the team discussed during the meeting. "That's what's going to get your offense going regardless if you're making shots or not. If you're able to stop a team consecutively three or four times, you're going to get more opportunities on the offense and you'll have higher energy. Defensively, we had to get it together. Offensively, do what you're good at. Put somebody on the post that's going to draw the double teams, kick the ball out and swing it to the other side."
This constructive dialogue contrasted with how the Lakers had aired out grievances to the media but avoided discussing them with the team.
Bryant publicly lashed out at the team's effort after a double-digit loss to Miami and questioned the team's commitment. But his demonstrative demeanor, combined 15 of 43 clip against Miami and San Antonio and refusal to discuss his concerns during the team's practice Monday only alienated himself from the team. Gasol and Bynum lamented the failure to get the ball inside, but the Lakers largely avoided it because of Gasol's inconsistency and chemistry issues involving the bench and Bynum. Odom noticed the team's arrogance plaguing its effort since training camp but was at a loss for words following the team's loss to San Antonio. Artest didn't criticize anyone on the team, but acknowledged frustration with not playing significant minutes during the fourth quarter.
With the Lakers hashing out these issues and stressing team unity, the chemistry instantly blossomed. Now it's just a matter of keeping it.
"If we play our game, we're hard to beat," Lakers forward Matt Barnes said. "We got a very talented team. We got to sustain the effort for 48 minutes. That's something that sometimes we go through peaks and valleys. We do it, then we won't. We have to stay consistent, then we'll have a chance to win every game."
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