Mike Brown deems development is more important than record
Considering how jumbled the NBA season became, Lakers Coach Mike Brown hardly paid attention to the standings.
He worried more about how quickly his players would learn the playbook, how well they’d handle a lockout-condensed schedule and how a fluctuating roster would affect team chemistry. But with the Lakers a month from the star of the NBA playoffs, Brown has paid attention to the standings and acknowledged “there’s starting to be some separation.”
Entering their game Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center, the Lakers (30-18) sit third in the Western Conference three games behind San Antonio (32-14) and six games behind Oklahoma City (36-12) with 18 games left. The Lakers also hold three-game leads against the Clippers (27-21) and Dallas Mavericks (28-22), and maintain a four-game cushion over the Memphis Grizzlies (25-21), Utah Jazz (26-22) and Denver Nuggets (26-22).
“I’ve never put any goals like that on our team in terms of how many games we need to win or where we need to finish,” Brown said. “Obviously, it would be great to finish first if it happens. I don’t think that’s of the utmost importance because I felt the season was going to be wacky. I just wanted us to be at our best at the end. If we’re at our best at the end, I really don’t care if we play at home or on somebody else’s court. We’ll get it done.”
Brown indicated at the beginning of the season that he didn’t care about playoff seeding so long as his team peaked and remained healthy when the postseason began. Still, the team’s development correlated with the wins anyway. Two months ago, the Lakers sat in seventh place in the West and faced all kinds of challenges. The Lakers went on a 13-game stretch where they didn’t score more than 100 points in a game. The constant change of the rotations left both players uncomfortable with their role and Brown unsure of what he had. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum carried most of the load, and logged heavy minutes with it. And the team’s bench remained last in the league in both points per game and efficiency.
Two months later, the Lakers have looked and performed differently. The Lakers upgraded at point guard by acquiring Ramon Sessions from Cleveland for Luke Walton, Jason Kapono, a first-round draft pick and less than $1 million in cash. Since Sessions’ arrival, the Lakers’ offense has flourished. Consider the discrepancy between the Lakers’ averages this enitre season and in the last five games in points (95.88, 102.4), shooting percentage (45.7%, 48.6%), three-point shooting (31.2%, 37.5%), and assists (21.69, 24), leading Brown to joke, “everybody might think I’m an offensive coach.” Meanwhile, Brown’s own staple of defense has actually dipped. Consider the breakdown between the Lakers’ regular-season averages and the last five games in points allowed (93.23, 98.2) and opponents’ shooting percentage (45.6%, 48.5%).
The Lakers have a chance to prove that development will translate into competitive games, and wins, against the West’s elite teams. They host Oklahoma City this week and on April 22. They also play the Spurs three times within the next month. With the season’s end near, Brown is still sticking to his mantra in valuing development over climbing up the standings.
“They give you a feel based on how they defend and based on how they play offense of some things that you need to adjust to,” Brown said. “But, in terms of us winning three games or them winning all three games, to me, that doesn’t mean much.”
All things Lakers, all the time.
Get all the Lakers news you need in Dan Woike's weekly newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.