Phil Jackson agrees with Jerry West's critical comments on Lakers' defense
Philosophically, Jerry West and Phil Jackson rarely agree on much.
The former Lakers star and general manager has long maintained that talent determines championship success. The current Lakers coach believes it's the system -- the triangle, teamwork, managing egos to achieve a final goal -- that's pointed to his 11 championship rings.
But there's at least one point on which the two men reach consensus -- the Lakers' defense needs work.
“If there’s a loose ball now, how often do they get it?” West asked as the keynote speaker Thursday during the annual Orange County Automobile Dealers Assn. luncheon. “The reason you ‘can’t play defense’ is because you can’t!"
"He's right," Jackson said with a smile after Sunday's practice when West's comments were relayed to him. "We have to do a lot of things right to play defense the way we want to. Most of it is about controlling the tempo of the game. Some of it is about speed and outright speed. We're not the fastest team on the boards. We can do it if we control things the right way."
And West had more concerns about the Lakers than just their defense. He believes the team's mileage and age will soon catch up to it: "I don’t think the Lakers will be good for much longer. You can keep a car running for a long time by changing the tires, etc. You can’t change a player’s tires." He also shared his belief that the Boston Celtics have a good chance to win the NBA title: "I think Boston is a very dangerous team,” he said. “I would not want to play them every other night."
Incidentally, West made those comments during a speech in which he preached about the auto industry's need to overcome challenges to succeed. So it's not as if the Lakers are doomed to failure defensively. Their 107-97 victory Friday over Denver featured holding the Nuggets to four fast-break points, and Ron Artest contributed to Carmelo Anthony scoring 23 points on only 10 of 24 shooting.
The Lakers also credited a new defensive scheme that emphasized forcing baseline drives instead of through the middle, more emphasis on perimeter defense and keeping the front-line players close to the basket as instrumental in holding opponents under 100 points in nine of the 11 past contests. And statistically, the Lakers have fared well defensively in points allowed (a 10th best 96.4 points per game), opponent's field-goal percentage (43.8%, tied for third), opponent's three-point field-goal percentage (33.9%, fifth overall) and point differential (-7.04, fourth in the league).
As indicated by the Lakers' sluggish 109-100 loss Wednesday to the Mavericks, however, the team remains a work in progress in consistently sharpening those concepts.
Artest was deferential when told about West's comments, saying, "Jerry West has a great mind. But I'm not sure. It depends. I can't pinpoint." He then went on to say that he felt "great" physically before conceding that he had trouble last week "because I couldn't get in a rhythm" when guarding Clippers guard Eric Gordon, who scored 30 points on 13 of 20 shooting.
To offset opponents' offensive firepower, Jackson also has emphasized having two players remain close to the basket to grab rebounds, two players ready to march back on defense and leaving the shooter either to follow his shot or provide help on the defensive end. And the Lakers have often allowed their talent level to get into track meets with teams rather than playing at a deliberate pace.
"It's the toughest time to play defense in the NBA," Jackson said. "You can't do it off turnovers very rarely and you can't do it a lot of times off bad shots. It just goes that way. It's has to be good shots and it has to be at the right time."
-- Mark Medina
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