Things to watch in Tuesday night's Lakers-Pistons matchup
1. How will the Lakers' effort look? It'd be easy to presume that following the team's fourth loss in six games and a long and intense practice that the team will show more focus and desire Tuesday at Staples Center against the Detroit Pistons (11-23).
With this L.A. team (23-11), it's not safe to believe that will happen. Many figured the Lakers would play better after getting embarrassed by Milwaukee. That followed with another laugher Christmas Day to Miami. Many figured Kobe Bryant's public displeasure about the team afterwards would yield better results against San Antonio, but the same problems persisted. The Lakers temporarily fixed things up against New Orleans, but that passion apparently stayed in the Big Easy. The Lakers followed with a mail-it-in win New Year's Eve against Philadelphia and an outright embarrassment Sunday against Memphis.
Though it's hard to predict what kind of game the Lakers will bring, it's easy to assess from the opening tip whether the team is truly serious about altering its course. That doesn't mean a dominating a win would suddenly cement the Lakers back in the right direction. But it's at least a start.
2. How will the Lakers run their offense? Lots of discussion boiled over this past week over whether Kobe Bryant, his teammates or a combination of both should be held most accountable for Bryant's disproportionate shot selection and the team's poor offensive execution in the past week. As I explained in a post following Thursday's practice, the problem points to both but varies within each game. I defended Bryant's latest scoring spree, scoring 17 of his team-high 28 points in the third quarter against Memphis because very little worked offensively after the Lakers' bench line started off strong. Against Detroit, however, it'd be best for the Lakers to run the triangle and emphasize ball movement.
It's very well possible the Pistons would have no match for Bryant, who scored 33 points on 11 of 20 shooting in the Lakers' 103-90 victory Nov. 17 against Detroit. There's no reason Bryant should pass up open shots or drives to the basket just for the sake of "balance." But there's a difference between taking advantage of defensive lapses and going on a scoring spree. Collectively, Bryant and his teammates need to ensure proper spacing, cutting and passing to ensure a crisply run offense. That strategy will help build a foundation for a more cohesive offense and it'll more likely result in the Lakers having a stronger supporting cast and Bryant not doing things on his own.
3. How will the Lakers' conditioning look? Lakers Coach Phil Jackson held a 2 1/2-hour practice Monday involving plenty of running drills, including this one: The team had to made 82 layups from one to the other within a two-minute span. It took six attempts before the Lakers completed the task, showing that Joe Smith and Andrew Bynum aren't as quick as Sasha Vujacic and Devin Ebanks and that the Lakers' conditioning level could improve as a unit. The daily grind of a season makes it understandable for a team to fight fatigue issues, but it's downright puzzling that this remains a prevalent issue for a team that's been well-rested.
But that's kind of the point and the reason why Jackson's changing his philosophy on length of practice times and the intensity of them, believing the long-term goal in ensuring health and rest needs to temporarily take a back seat so the Lakers can start winning again and climb up the Western Conference standings. A good indicator of whether this worked will show how quickly the Lakers get back on transition defense. The team would hope that factor doesn't become an issue with improved ball handling, but the Lakers' 16.8 turnovers per game in the last five contests suggests otherwise.
4. Lakers should take pride in the little things. Guard Derek Fisher very may be speaking about himself, what with his 37.8% mark from field-goal range. But the Lakers' co-captain hit on a good philosophical note after Monday's practice.
"It seems really big right now, but we just have to start plugging away at things one at a time," Fisher said. "Make a few more free throws, get a couple more rebounds, get one or two more defensive stops, make one or two more shots and when you combine all those things together, you start to see some things turn around."
As many changes as the Lakers need to make fundamentally, Fisher's explanation sounds like a realistic prescription. Interestingly, the Lakers' unwillingness to follow that advice exacerbated the offensive and defensive tendencies. Certainly the Lakers appear bored, wishing they could just worry about the playoffs. But a stronger indictment on the team's focus entailed their tendency to cut corners when things initially didn't work out on the court.
Although it's far from matching the glamour of Hollywood, grinding out a game brings some value in erasing poor habits. When a player's shot is off the mark from the outside, take pride in trying to be the setup man. When a post player isn't hitting attempts in the paint, try dominating on the boards instead. When a defensive player is getting beat off the dribble or through the lane, try communicating more to ensure better collective understanding. The Lakers have mostly become consumed with the end result, worried about whether a shot goes on or whether they yield a basket while overlooking the small mechanics that go into improving or worsening that process.
With the Lakers' chemistry still far from great, doing the little things is a good start.
Photo: Kobe Bryant puts up an off-balance shot against Detroit on Wednesday night. Credit: Rick Osentoski / US Presswire
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