Lakers keep even keel at Monday's practice
Mostly everyone on the Lakers demonstrated in their own way that their five-game losing streak isn't making them stress out.
Coach Phil Jackson let out a laugh and smiled to open up his interview following Monday's practice. Guard Kobe Bryant sneered at the idea their latest struggles will doom their chances of three-peating. And forward Pau Gasol slightly backed away from his declaration that the team's two remaining regular season games are must-win and instead praised the team's increased "focus."
That doesn't necessarily change the reality that the Lakers are facing. They're tied with the Dallas Mavericks at 55-25 for second in the West, while the Thunder (54-26) is only a game behind them. Though the Lakers hold both a tiebreaker over Dallas after locking up the Pacific Division and over Oklahoma City after finishing 2-1 in the regular-season series, that's not making the Lakers comfortable. Although Jackson told his team not to pay attention to the Eastern Conference teams because it promotes looking ahead to a possible NBA Finals matchup, it's hard not to notice the Miami Heat (56-25) have a one-game edge over the Lakers, while Boston (55-25) remains tied. But at least, according to the Lakers, they made the right step in correcting their problems before Tuesday's game against the San Antonio Spurs.
"From one day, no," Bryant said. "But we're getting there."
Jackson began the practice stressing he liked the team's effort and execution for the first 44 minutes of the Lakers' 120-106 loss Sunday against Oklahoma City. The Lakers unraveled with a 17-2 lapse and nine turnovers in the final quarter. So the team went back to the beginning, dividing up the frontline and backcourt and ensuring there's no miscommunication and lapse in timing on defensive rotations.
Not everyone was happy, with center Andrew Bynum saying, "we are still needing to have a good practice" because Monday's session didn't feature any full-court scrimmages. But that doesn't jibe with Jackson's desire to rest the starters. It also doesn't jibe with the reality that Matt Barnes is considered to be still recovering from his surgically repaired right knee and missed Monday's practice, Steve Blake was also absent, because of a fever, and Devin Ebanks remained sidelined because of an injured left tibia.
That didn't prevent Jackson from reviewing film and going over defensive drills so that the Lakers improve what he called their "mental focus," an issue he said also affected his 1992-93 Chicago Bulls team that lost three of its last five regular-season games before defending their NBA Championship.
"It's a subliminal part of them saying we have to save it for the best, which is later on," Jackson said. "At their age, it's understandable."
Meanwhile, the Lakers don't have much to draw from in terms of late-season adversity. The Lakers championship years mostly featured strong finishes in April, including the seasons in 1999-2000 (6-3), 2000-2001 (8-1), 2001-2002 (6-3) and 2008-09 (7-1). The only exception was last season, when they finished 3-3. But that featured much different circumstances.
"Last year we didn't know what the hell was going on." Bryant said. "We had a lot of injuries. My knee needed to be operated on. There were a lot of question marks. This year we don't really have any question marks. These are executional things. These are correctional things. They're correctable errors so from that standpoint we feel comfortable about it. You don't really see anybody here feeling like it's doom and gloom. These are problems that can be corrected and will be corrected."
Still, even if the Lakers' five-game losing streak hasn't happened since March 2007, they can lean on past bumps to suggest this is nothing to be concerned about.
"I'm sure some of it has a little bit to do with it, the fact that we've been through a lot of things before," Bryant said. "Everybody wants to put the nail in the coffin, but we've been there before so it doesn't bother us."
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