Lakers talk over their issues

Phil Jackson had seen enough, so he turned Saturday’s scheduled practice into a miniature version of a clear-the-air meeting.

The Lakers had been stumbling, losers of two consecutive games to quasi-.500 teams, making it an appropriate time to let players vent about their porous defense in the hopes they could turn it around before their game Sunday against the Orlando Magic.

Kobe Bryant provided reporters with only a few scant words about what he said, though he still seemed annoyed as he sat on the bottom step of the bleachers at tiny Rollins College, ice bags on each knee.

Did he talk to his teammates, as he pledged to do in the wake of an embarrassing 98-83 loss Friday in Charlotte?

“A little bit,” Bryant said.

How was it perceived?

“I don’t give a …"

Was he kind?

“Always.” (Said with sarcasm.)

What was your message?

“That’s for my teammates.”

He did allow that his frustration was with the defense.

“We’ve got to do a much better job of protecting the paint, protecting the basket and not giving up so many free throws,” he said. “Too many easy opportunities.”

Specifically, the Lakers are experiencing issues with their pick-and-roll defense.

The Lakers’ ballhandling guards have been getting beaten off the dribble. Andrew Bynum is inconsistent; sometimes he seems motivated and jumps out on opposing teams’ point guards and sometimes he doesn’t, getting stuck in a dangerous gray area. Bryant’s on-ball defense has been passable, but he’s been poor off the ball, the primary example being Quentin Richardson’s 25-point outburst Thursday in Miami.

If defense seems like a teamwide epidemic, it is: Only Ron Artest has shown a desire to play solid defense in recent weeks.

Defensive lapses have been a main culprit in falling 3 1/2 games behind Cleveland for the NBA’s best record and only three games ahead of Orlando in the same race.

Jackson called the mood of the team “somber” as it reconvened in Orlando, where the franchise took its 15th NBA championship just nine months ago.

“They’re used to winning, and they’re losing,” Jackson said. “It’s not an easy thing to stomach.”

Jackson began a strategic talk on defense and “kind of opened it up for [discussion on] how are we going to solve some of these problems"

Bryant “interjected and brought up a notion of determination,” Jackson said. “There’s a willfulness that you have to have in this game.”

Other players also spoke.

“We understand we’re here to get that ultimate goal and there’s things that we need to get done,” Pau Gasol said after the session.