Winning might start if the Lakers can get some stops
SAN ANTONIO — The Lakers’ defense hits triple digits more often than Dubai in July.
It was 112 on Sunday, 125 on Tuesday and 108 on Wednesday.
The numbers are uncomfortably high because the Lakers seem incapable of turning up the heat on anyone.
There were a few dozen degrees of separation between passable defense and what the Lakers played again Wednesday night at the AT&T; Center during a 108-105 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
Things were so absurdly out of whack that Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni spoke before the game about his team having trouble defending the rim without Robert Sacre on the court.
Yes, Robert Sacre.
Of course, the Lakers were appalling long before the absences of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol necessitated Sacre the savior.
Kobe Bryant leads the NBA in scoring and standing around on defense, idly watching in the third quarter as Danny Green made a three-pointer. Bryant also came up empty on a few misguided steal attempts that might have left his teammates feeling robbed.
“We just have to work on our execution,” Bryant said in a feeble attempt to pinpoint his team’s defensive shortcomings, “and keeping guys out of the paint and keeping them out of the middle.”
The Lakers failed to account for much of anyone, ignoring Stephen Jackson as he hit a three-pointer that gave the Spurs 101 points … with 7 minutes 7 seconds left in the game. The Lakers’ defensive indifference in the early and middle portions of the game rendered a late comeback meaningless.
“When you fall asleep one time it’s too many,” D’Antoni said, “but when it’s four or five times then you almost have to play a perfect game offensively.”
Time is running out on the Lakers to get this fixed after they gave up at least 100 points for the 17th time in 25 games under D’Antoni, whose defense could be a bigger flop than Mike Brown’s Princeton offense. Maybe D’Antoni should check to see if his predecessor left some of those DVDs on defense around the practice facility.
The Lakers have given up 104.2 points per game under D’Antoni versus 98.8 under Brown. Assistant Bernie Bickerstaff should be elevated to defensive coordinator considering that the Lakers yielded an average of 92.2 points in his five games as interim coach.
“I think it’s mental lapses as much as anything,” Lakers guard Steve Nash said. “I think it’s tendencies, I think it’s situations. I think that’s the biggest deal. Everyone in this league is going to get beat from time to time, but if you know where you’re supposed to be and you’re there early, you can rely on your team defense and take away half of that stuff, so I would say it’s mental.”
D’Antoni has made defense optional wherever he has coached.
The New York Knicks ranked 28th in the NBA in points allowed in each of his three full seasons there. The Phoenix Suns were rumored to have made a stop under D’Antoni during the 2004-05 season, when they ranked last in the league in the same category.
Otherwise they were 23rd, 25th and 28th in points allowed in full seasons under D’Antoni, whose high-scoring teams often couldn’t score enough to win. That discrepancy led to the long-running joke that there’s no D in D’Antoni.
“In this business it’s a small fraternity,” San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich said, “and once you get a reputation for something it pretty much sticks and it doesn’t matter what you do about it. I think Mike could probably do defensive drills all day long and somebody would still get after him for not caring about defense.”
Popovich said that’s not the case.
“People act like he never heard the word, doesn’t know how to spell it,” Popovich said, “and nothing could be further from the truth.”
Nash pooh-poohed the Lakers’ defensive issues against the Spurs, noting the absence of his team’s primary front line. But even an optimist knows things must change.
“When we get our big guys back, then there’s no excuses,” Nash said. “We really have to build the defense and do a better job.”
Making the playoffs depends on it.
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