Five things Lakers need to end five-game losing streak against San Antonio
The stakes are fairly obvious.
Each Lakers win or loss in the two remaining regular-season games has playoff-seeding implications, with the possibility the Lakers could secure the No. 2 seed in the West or the possibility they could drop all the way to No. 4. Likewise, the way the Lakers finish determines who they will meet in the first round, with the best draw being the New Orleans Hornets, a mixed bag being the Memphis Grizzlies or the Portland Trail Blazers and the worst-case scenario being the red-hot Denver Nuggets.
I've already broken down how these situations would unfold, so there's no need to sift through that again. The Lakers' formula for the remaining regular-season games, however, is pretty simple.
"There's nothing we can do about it except play better [on Tuesday]," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "I told these guys that we played better for 42, 44 minutes [Sunday], something like that. So, that's a good sign. We have signs that we're starting to recover. The ailing patient is starting to recover."
Below the jump are five things the Lakers need to address:
1. Limit turnovers. The Lakers thought they made improvements in this area against Oklahoma City, entering the first three quarters with only one turnover. That's a huge improvement over the 73 they compiled in the four previous games. There's only one problem: The Lakers had nine turnovers in the final quarter against the Thunder, including three by Kobe Bryant in the final three minutes. Bryant can say all he wants that Oklahoma City's defense sparked that, but it's been an ongoing problem for the Lakers during their losing streak.
2. Ensure late-game execution: It's a tad unfair to pin the Lakers' 89-88 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 3 on Lamar Odom's failure to box out Antonio McDyess, resulting in a game-winning putback. But those are the plays that differentiate teams in close games. During the Lakers' five-game losing streak, there have been too many of those plays. Odom also failed to box out Kenyon Martin on a putback that secured the Nuggets' win last week over the Lakers. Against Utah, Bryant had the ball in his hands on the final possession. He appeared ready to hit the game-winner, but the ball slipped out of his hands. And, as mentioned before, the Lakers committed nine turnovers in the final quarter against Oklahoma City, leading to eight OKC points and contributing to the Thunder's 17-2 run to end the game. So much for being a team that knows how to close contests.
3. Sharpen up on defense: The Lakers spent most of Monday's practice going over defensive rotations, because they allowed the Thunder to score 120 points. That's an uncharacteristic concern considering that the Lakers allow an eighth-best 95.24 points per game. But with the Spurs boasting the sixth-best offense, averaging 103.3 points per game, there's no reason to assume that this is just a blip. The Lakers surely don't see it that way, as they worked to ensure that there was no miscommunication on rotations, a flaw the Thunder players exposed easily because of their superior athleticism and quickness.
4. Take advantage of a possible Spurs letdown. Because San Antonio has locked up the No. 1 seed, it's conceivable that Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich will rest his starters for significant minutes. It's also plausible the Spurs won't have the intensity they normally would -- for reasons the Lakers are all too familiar with in pacing. That gives the Lakers an opportunity to go on the offense and catch San Antonio off guard. The Lakers clearly need this game more than the Spurs do, so they should act like it on the court.
5. The Lakers need more consistent production. That includes Bryant's shooting percentage, Gasol's rebounding, Andrew Bynum's points and the entire bench.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Says Kobe Bryant of the Lakers' recent woes: 'Everybody wants to put the nail in the coffin. We've all been there before.' Credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times.