Lakers taking a mature and serious attitude regarding their four-game losing streak
The exercise seemed tedious. But that was the point.
Each time Lakers Coach Phil Jackson replayed the last six minutes of the first half of the Lakers' 109-99 loss Wednesday to the Houston Rockets during Thursday's practice, the various sequences showcased several areas the Lakers need to correct. Protecting a lead: After the reserves largely helped the Lakers build a 12-point advantage with 3:23 remaining, the Lakers' starters allowed Houston to end the first half with an 11-4 run. Shot selection: The Lakers went only two of eight from the field during the Rockets' rally, thanks to forced outside shots and poor drives to the lane. Questionable defense: The Lakers allowed the Rockets to close the gap thanks to inadequate efforts in covering the perimeter, filling the lane on help defense and rotating when Houston worked its offense.
"I held the starters' feet to the fire that we have to play better at certain times in the game." Jackson said Thursday after practice at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo. "There's some things you can learn out of this. You have to dot the i's and cross the t's."
There's a lot of things the Lakers (13-6) are re-examining beyond watching film as they enter Friday's game at Staples Center against Sacramento on the heels of their first four-game losing streak since April 2007.
Jackson is re-examining the team's lack of offensive balance, which he believes points to the team's tendency to assume Kobe Bryant should take complete responsibility. "It's pretty easy to throw the ball in Kobe sometimes," he said, "and go stand in the corner sometimes and suck our thumb."
Lakers forward Pau Gasol re-examined himself and how he's playing through a strained left hamstring, acknowledging the team-leading 39 minutes a game has taken a toll but vowing to fight through it. "We're short-handed already," he said, which includes Lakers center Andrew Bynum playing in a four-on-four halfcourt scrimmage to rehabilitate his surgically repaired right knee and Lakers backup center Theo Ratliff running on an anti-gravity treadmill to recover from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. "I'll just to be out there as much as I can and do as much as I can."
And Lakers forward Lamar Odom re-examined the team's confident attitude and reasoned this should spark the team's effort, particularly on defense. "We're human at the end of the day," Odom said. "But it's something we can fix."
"Obviously we're upset on how things have been going," Gasol said. "We have to be concerned. We would be dumb if we werent concerned with what's going on and why we're losing."
The Lakers showed their level of concern in numerous ways. Practice lasted an extra hour longer than when the team normally opens its door to the media. Instead of providing jovial and smart aleck responses to questions, Jackson kept a serious tone and provided straight-forward, clipped answers. But even if the vibe from Thursday's practice showcased a serious demeanor, it doesn't mean they're panicking.
What's more impressive isn't necessarily the Lakers' acknowledgement of the litany of problems. It's the mature way they're handling it. Sometimes that mind-set's contributed to lackadaisical efforts in seasons past, but it's also something that's keeping the team fracturing apart.
Jackson remains frustrated the team isn't acquiring a backup center because of player salary and luxury tax concerns, but hasn't made a big fuss about it. Gasol's acknowledged his struggle with fighting through fatigue, but shared Jackson's observation that his 39 minutes a game is only a two-minute increase from last season's average. Odom admitted the challenges the Lakers face with an injury-riddled lineup, but vowed he'll accept any increased responsibility. And despite seeing a limited role because of Matt Barnes' resurgence, Lakers forward Ron Artest, according to Jackson, said he's buying into what Jackson envisioned as solely a role as a defensive stopper. "He says I don't care if I play two minutes or 42 minutes," Jackson said of Artest, "as long we win, so that's the right attitude."
The Lakers have also had the right attitude considering how easy early-season adversity can reveal further tensions and fractions within a team (see Miami Heat). Even if they're only saying the right things and doing the right things, the Lakers, for now, at least have the correct perspective on it.
"We know what we're supposed to do," Odom said. "We're a mature group of guys. We've been together for some time."
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