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Lakers credit team meeting in sparking stronger performance against New Orleans

The Lakers arrived in New Orleans fresh off an embarrassing double-digit loss to San Antonio with many concepts to sharpen, not a lot of time to go over them and too much fatigue to execute them.

The Lakers usually avoid a morning shootaround before the second game being played on successive nights for several reasons. They can sustain that energy for the game instead. They can better handle unpredictable travel schedules. And they can avoid the information-overload process that comes with so many sessions compressed between short turnarounds.

Still, the Lakers had just experienced their second three-game losing streak of the season, a stretch in which they averaged just 80.33 points and lost by an average margin of 16.67 points.

There were simply too many issues the Lakers couldn't ignore, so Coach Phil Jackson arranged a team meeting upon arrival in New Orleans that center Andrew Bynum said was long. The intention didn't entail giving a dramatic speech and chewing out players so much as it was to discuss details that had plagued the team during its losing streak. It turned out to be a significant turning point in what led to the Lakers' 103-88 victory Wednesday over the New Orleans Hornets. The dialogue could also help the Lakers (22-10) to stay sharp when they host the Philadelphia 76ers (13-19) Friday at Staples Center. 

"It was important because there were a couple of things that weren't happening for us," forward Pau Gasol said after Thursday's practice in El Segundo. "When you lose three games the way we lost them, it's not a fluke. It's not just an accident one night. It's not just a bad game. It's something that is continuously happening. We had to cut it out to understand how can we change this from happening again. That's why we went back to the principles of our defense and of our offense so we can focus on that instead of trying to do too much on our own, which wasn't taking us anywhere."

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Lakers striving to improve ball movement

The problem and the solution are one and the same.

"Move the ball," Lakers forward Lamar Odom summed up when asked what needs to happen to ensure more ball movement.

But if it were that simple,ball movement wouldn't have been an issue in the Lakers' 96-80 loss Christmas Day to the Miami Heat, a game that featured the team shooting 40.5% from the field, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol combining for a zero of 11 clip and the entire bench finishing with a seven of 23 mark from field-goal range.

"The ball has to move well for guys to have open shots. Some of it is about confidence and having a semblance of responsibility with the ball," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "A lot of the guys are trying to take it on themselves. The ball doesn't move often enough from one side of the court to the other."

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Phil Jackson gets a kick out of fining players

Perhaps after all those NBA fines for criticizing officials, this is Phil Jackson's way of getting some of his money back. But with his fines just $20 or so a clip, it's more likely just one more way to needle his players ... or to pick up some lunch money.

"I love to fine these players," Jackson said Monday at the team's facility in El Segundo. "It's one of the joys."

Jackson said Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom were the "perennial leaders," although, he said, Pau Gasol and Ron Artest are in the mix too. 

The Lakers had a brief practice Monday before departing for their game Tuesday night against Memphis. So there wasn't much of a chance to ask players if they could recall any memorable instances of drawing a fine from the Zen Master. So while I find out that in the next few days, feel free to share your take. I'll feature some of the best comments in a post later this week.

--Mark Medina
twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Lakers' Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson, Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown, Ron Artest and Matt Barnes discuss 121-116 loss to Phoenix Suns

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant

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Pau Gasol maintaining positive attitude about heavy playing time

57575948Any time Andrew Bynum rehabilitates his surgically repaired right knee during Lakers practice, it serves as a visual reminder for Pau Gasol as to why Coach Phil Jackson has asked him to assume a heavier workload.

Considering Jackson doesn't anticipate Bynum will begin practicing at least until after the Lakers' three-game trip this week, Gasol's large responsibility will likely remain the same Saturday night at Staples Center against Phoenix. That's why it's not a surprise that when Gasol sees Bynum in practice, he's counting down the days as every Lakers fan does for when he'll finally step on the court in an actual game.

"Whenever that is, we'll be all happy about it," Gasol said. "Probably one of the first ones will be me."

That comment drew laughs from reporters and led them to ask the exact reason why Gasol will feel so elated. "I don't know," Gasol replied sheepishly.

The reason doesn't need to be stated. Bynum's return will make it nearly impossible for teams to stop the Lakers' frontline considering it will feature two 7-footers. It will help sharpen the team's defensive rotations in terms of size, length and stopping players from penetrating the lane. And it will help relieve some of Gasol's playing time, a team-leading 38.4 minutes per game that Jackson described as "tremendous."

Unlike a certain player in South Beach, however, you won't hear Gasol complaining about that workload.

"Not a chance. I enjoy playing," Gasol said when asked whether he has popped off about playing 44 minutes in a game, the amount of time that caused LeBron James to complain about his responsibility in Miami's 112-107 loss Thursday to Boston and the amount of time Gasol logged in three of the past five contests. "Some nights those 44 [minutes] are going to feel a lot more than others, depending on the opponent. But I'm fine playing the way I'm playing right now. Obviously it's not ideal at this point in the year, but it is what it is and the circumstances we're in."

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Lakers should not pursue 72-win mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls

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There the Lakers sat on the bench laughing as frequently and quickly as a sitcom soundtrack.

With ice bags wrapped around his right knee, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant huddled between Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown. With Bryant's arms wrapped around each of them, they all bore wide smiles across their face. A few seats down, Lakers forward Ron Artest cusped his hand over his mouth and whispered to Pau Gasol. In return, Gasol let out the kind of boisterous laugh you'd see out of an uncle amused by the antics of his young nephew. What they said during the final minutes of the Lakers' 121-96 victory Sunday over the Portland Trail Blazers wasn't so much important. But their body language revealed a lot about the Lakers' current state of being.

The Lakers' 7-0 start, the fifth time the franchise reached such a mark, has given the team a shot of confidence and closeness. A walk into the locker room a few minutes later reveals that positive vibe remaining, but with a more measured attitude. Bryant bore a smile at his looker while his feet were in water not just because of the Lakers' start, but because the team's strong play allowed him to play only 25 minutes. Artest remained upbeat because of his suffocating defense on Brandon Roy that resulted in a one of six mark from field-goal range, but he said very little about Roy and his defense, a new effort in minimizing his silly yet harmless statements that attract plenty of media attention. Gasol reveled the spotlight surrounding his fourth career triple double, but stressed he's simply just trying to fill a void left by Andrew Bynum's absence. And Lakers forward Lamar Odom clarified a reporter's question on whether the Lakers can lose, and using it as a launching point into what the team's current mindset. 

"You expect to almost fall short a little bit of perfection," Odom said. "But you should always strive for it. Go for the moon and hit a star."

Of course, the latest barometer being discussed involves whether the Lakers can surpass the 72-win regular-season mark, a record set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and a topic that seemingly comes up at the beginning of the regular season. For the same reasons the 2008-09 Lakers and 2009-10 Lakers didn't surpass the mark are the same reasons the Lakers shouldn't pursue.

I listed plenty of reasons why the Lakers shouldn't fall into this trap, but with Bryant expediting his rehabilitation process, Gasol and Odom proving almost unstoppable on the frontline, Artest providing his usual tough defense in a more mobile form, Derek Fisher shooting as efficiently as he does in the postseason and a bolstered bench featuring Shannon Brown's marksmanship, Steve Blake's offensive directing and Matt Barnes' effective cutting and hustle, it might be another good reminder to explain again.

The reasons go beyond Phil Jackson's contention to reporters before the Portland game that his 1995-96 Chicago team played better on defense. Meanwhile, the Lakers have allowed at least 100 points in five of the seven games, though some of those numbers point to the bench making mistakes in inconsequential minutes, the Lakers' frontline fighting fatigue and the team still ironing out defensive rotations among its corps and newcomers alike.

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Lakers point to defense as the biggest area to correct

57279297The Lakers don't want to dampen the enthusiasm surrounding their 5-0 record, but they can't help themselves.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson quickly veered from praising the Lakers' attitude and consistent ball movement into criticizing the defense. Lakers guard Derek Fisher tactfully deviated from talking about his late-game heroics in the team's victory Wednesday over the Sacramento Kings into discussing how the Lakers need to improve on defense, which has conceded more than 100 points in four of the five games. And when the Lakers play Friday night at Staples Center against the Toronto Raptors (1-3), it'll be another test of whether they've corrected their defensive lapses.

"It's about penetration," Jackson said. "It's about getting to the basket and into the paint. We have to start sealing that off a little bit better."

Jackson surely provided the correct diagnosis, but the next question is how to solve it.

With Lakers center Andrew Bynum expected to remain sidelined until around Thanksgiving, Jackson noted that his size and shot-blocking ability disrupts the passing lanes, intimidates players against driving inside and adds another big body on help defense. As quickly as  Kobe Bryant rehabilitated his surgically repaired right knee, Jackson believes the next step involves Bryant converting onto the defensive end the same mobility and quickness that's yielded a team-leading 25-point average.  And even if coach and player accounts reveal satisfaction with  newcomers Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff, they don't have the same chemistry that the team's core has demonstrated.

Still, the numerous times the Lakers have allowed drives to the lane remain puzzling. They have length in forwards Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. They feature lock-down defenders in Ron Artest and Barnes. And managing to recover and provide help defense points to execution rather than having to understand rotations.

"Screen-roll is the play du jour for every team we match up against, and keeping these fast, quick guards out of our lane so they're not causing problems for us by creating foul situations and rotations that open up three-point shooting," said Fisher, who's often been a victim of that play. "Those are the things we have to really focus on. We have to close our lane, and not having Andrew in there makes a big difference for us in terms of size and length around the basket."

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Lakers' Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Blake and Matt Barnes discuss 124-105 victory over Memphis Grizzlies

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson (in audio format)

Phil Jackson on Memphis Grizzlies


Lakers guard Kobe Bryant

Lakers center Pau Gasol

Lakers guard Steve Blake

Lakers forward Matt Barnes

--Mark Medina

Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Phil Jackson's nickname for the bench: Renegades

It's only two games into the regular season, and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has already assigned the team's bench a nickname. They're "Renegades."

"I gave it to them," Jackson said Saturday after practice at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo. "They're getting a sense of how to play together."

That includes Steve Blake, Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes, a trio KCAL-9's Stu Lantz and a few L.A. Times Lakers blog readers described as "Killer B's." Beyond this settling a long debate or perhaps furthering it within this corner of the blogosphere, it's not so much important what nickname Jackson has assigned the reserves so much as that his willingness to do it so early in the season shows his satisfaction with the team's overall play. Jackson limited Saturday's practice solely to the reserves, a unit he says will feature more unspecified playing time from Devin Ebanks and Sasha Vujacic possibly as early as Sunday against the Golden State Warriors. 

Dictionary.com defines "renegade" as a "person who deserts a party or cause for another," hardly a quality trait you'd want to have in a teammate. But the Lakers see it differently.

"When you think of renegade, you think of someone who's almost mean, but going out there and getting the job done," Brown said. "They're fierce. They don't play many games, but they're close knit together. They won't let nobody mess with them."

The reactions among the bench struck a perfect balance between amusement ("I'm liking all these names," said Brown) and professionalism ("We're not going to worry about nicknames," Blake said. We're just going to go out there and keep doing what we're doing").

The bench so far has been doing the right things. In the Lakers' 112-110 season-opening victory Tuesday against the Houston Rockets, Blake hit the game-winning three-pointer and shut off Aaron Brooks in the lane on the final play. Meanwhile, Brown provided an energy boost in both season opener and in the Lakers' 114-106 victory Friday over the Phoenix Suns, showing a solid mid-range game and ability to run the break. And Barnes has scrapped on the boards as well as going three-of-four from three-point range against the Suns.

I noted before how the bench's teamwork mentality will surely pay dividends this season, and a scene in the locker room before the Suns game fully illustrated why. Barnes recalled seeing Ron Artest's ring brought a wave of emotions.

"Seeing that ring for the first time, I'm happy for those guys but I'm definitely jealous," Barnes said. "It makes me hungrier to get my own. I'm thinking about how it's going to feel to get my own."

For now, the Lakers' bench can be comforted to know they've at least earned enough respect for a nickname. They realize they've earned it.

"Renegades are people that are out there reckless and taking care of business," Barnes added. "Killer B's is self explanatory. It's us three taking care of business and having fun."

Brown suggested there should be a poll on this topic, so I told him I'd be more than willing to oblige and then report the results. Feel free to vote in some of the polls below after the jump. Of course, if you don't like these nicknames, pitch a few others and I'll see if it resonates with the bench.

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Five things to watch in Lakers-Suns matchup

570842801.What kind of minutes will Kobe Bryant provide? -- Though Lakers Coach Phil Jackson maintained he would limit Bryant's minutes at the beginning of the regular season, he said he'd remain flexible about Bryant's playing time,  based on his comfort level and game situations. In the Lakers' 112-110 season-opening victory Tuesday over the Houston Rockets, Bryant scored 27 points on eight of 20 shooting in 37 minutes, a significant improvement in both shooting percentage and minutes compared to his preseason stat line of 12.6 points on 28.2% shooting in 21.6 minutes per contest.

Without citing specifics, Jackson said he may alter Bryant's minutes in the Lakers' (1-0) game Friday in Phoenix (1-1) because they host Golden State at home Sunday, leaving Bryant less room for recovery time.  

 2. How will the Suns look without Amare Stoudemire? - Stoudemire's departure to New York this off-season because of free agency prompted Suns guard Steve Nash to publicly doubt the team's chances of making the postseason.

"To be honest, if I was outside this picture and a betting man, I would probably pick us to be outside of the playoffs, considering all the changes and the new guys, Nash told the SB Nation Arizona's Seth Pollack.

Of course,  Bryant doesn't feel bad for Phoenix's off-season adversities, including losing Stoudemire to free agency and Leandro Barbosa in a trade.

"Good. We'll beat the hell out of them," Bryant said. "That's not my problem. We beat them in the playoffs last year, but they used to kick our butt all time in the playoffs. So I have no sympathy."

The Lakers offered many opinions on how much Stoudemire's departure affects the Suns, considering he averaged 25 points last season in the West Finals against the Lakers and partly contributed to Andrew Bynum getting in foul trouble. Bryant pointed out the Lakers won't have to "double-team a guy in the post." Jackson observed Stoudemire's penchant for high-percentage shots inside that he created, thanks to how perfect he and Steve Nash ran the screen and roll will no longer be an issue, considering center Robin Lopez has struggled so far replicating that same chemistry with Nash. And Lakers forward Derek Fisher actually argued the absence could prove more difficult, considering the Lakers' defense would have to space out more since Hedo Turkoglu, Channing Frye, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill  and Josh Childress can play from the wings.

"I'm sure at times, they'll miss the physicality and power Amare played with, Fisher said. "But I think as time goes on, their ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter complements Nash's penetration ability. I think it'll balance out a little bit. Teams like ours, it may be tough, because you got to have size in the middle, but catching us without Andrew Early and Theo [Ratliff] banged up a little bit, we'll still have to go in there and get some work done."

Although it's one game, Phoenix forward Hakim Warrick demonstrated in the Suns' 110-94 victory Thursday against the Utah Jazz that he knows a thing or two about the screen and roll. All the various contributions tie into what Phoenix Coach Alvin Gentry has described as a "continuity offense." Though the Lakers won't have to worry about Stoudemire, the Lakers still have issues. The Lakers' front-court remains fairly thin with Andrew Bynum rehabbing his right knee, backup center  Ratliff nursing a sore left knee and Derrick Caracter remaining understandably raw. Still, the Lakers should hold their own against Phoenix, which conceded 18 offensive rebounds in its 106-92 season-opening loss Tuesday to Portland.

"The combination between Stoudemire and Nash has been great in the last two years so that'll be a little timing," Jackson said. "But Phoenix will still be a good team."

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