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Lakers vow to change flipping-the-switch mentality

April 9, 2011 |  5:34 pm

A half hour passed and Lakers assistant Chuck Person still remained on the practice court talking with Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Theo Ratliff.

They often stood in a semicircle pointing out in various directions on the floor. In one sequence, Person went over the timing and direction in making entry passes into the lane. And in another moment, Gasol and Bynum conversed about where to pivot and post up.

They appeared to be pretty basic concepts, something that's head scratching the Lakers need to do considering their veteran experience and because there's only three games left in the regular season. But with the Lakers (55-24) entering Sunday's matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder (53-26) with a four-game losing streak, the Lakers are eager to find anything to help stop the recent struggles. It also deviates from the team's recent attitude, one Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said lacked effort and believed it could turn off and on its intensity whenever it's necessary.

"I’m not a fan of it," Gasol said of the Lakers' flipping the switch mentality. "We shouldn’t rely on that. It seems like it’s been that way sometimes with our team and it shouldn’t. We’re better than that. We’re a better team than that. We owe it to ourselves more than anything so we always should keep it on. You’re not going to play your best every night. You’re not going to be 100% every night. It’s not going to go right every night. But to lose three or four games in a row a few times shouldn’t happen, not with this team."

That's plagued the Lakers considering they downplayed the carrot in obtaining home-court advantage, showing little reaction to falling short in having that edge over San Antonio (60-19). But that's actually what Jackson believed served the triggering point, claiming unnamed players believed it was mathematically impossible to catch San Antonio following the Lakers' loss to Denver last Sunday, and, in Jackson's eyes, "stopped playing hard."

"It just takes a very small amount like that to change the outcome of games," Jackson said."You get surprised and all of a sudden you’re in jeopardy. You’re in trouble.”

So much in trouble that it's not even safe to say the Lakers have the No. 2 seed locked up in the West. The Lakers hold only a two-game advantage over Dallas (54-25) and a one-game edge over Oklahoma City (53-26). Then there's the fight for home-court advantage over Miami (55-24) and Boston (55-24) in case they meet in the NBA Finals, though that possibility fell short to Chicago (59-20). The Lakers are now endorsing that goal, but even the significance of that comes with a qualifier. Consider Gasol's dubious argument on what it means for the Lakers to have Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals against Boston at Staples Center. "We could’ve done it if we had the game and home court advantage in their favor," Gasol said.

That's doubtful considering the Lakers had to overcome a 13-point deficit, a nearly impossible task to accomplish in a title clinching game at TD Garden. Still, at least the Lakers are showing more tangible signs they care about the remaining three regular season games against Oklahoma City (Sunday), San Antonio (Tuesday) and Sacramento (Wednesday). In addition to Gasol, Bynum, Ratliff and Person going over post play, everyone else on the team took part in extra individual shooting, the exception being Kobe Bryant since he sits out most practices to rest his surgically repaired right knee.

There's surely plenty of areas to correct, starting with the lack of communication that affected the Lakers' inside game in the team's 93-86 loss Friday to the Portland Trail Blazers. That game featured Gasol scoring only eight points on four-of-11 shooting, Bynum fighting through the intestinal flu and finishing with only three points and six rebounds before fouling out and neither giving up much of a defensive effort. The Lakers' four-game losing streak also featured the team shooting 134 of 329 from the field (40.7%), a statistic that points to poor ball movement, poor shot selection and poor communication in running the offense. And then there's the Lakers committing 73 turnovers through those four games, an average of 18.25 per game and a problem Jackson points to, you guessed it, a "lack of communication." Usually action speaks louder than words in solving problems. But in this case, the Lakers' lack of words have contributed to the lack of action, but at least the extra work and extra talking is a step. It's much more engagement than the Lakers have offered in the past four games.

"The bottom line is when things are not clicking out there, you have to talk to your teammates and talk to your coaches," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said after Saturday's practice at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo. "You have to come to conclusions and be positive minded with what you need to do out there and get different perspectives. That’s always positive."

--Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com


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