First signs of fractured locker room?

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
12:16
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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PHOENIX -- Jordan Hill, by all accounts, is the kind of player that defines a "team guy."

He stays ready, even when he's being shuttled in and out of the lineup. He brings energy when he does find court time, his specialty being offensive rebounds, which often times results in him creating wide-open shot opportunities for his teammates through his efforts to secure extra possessions. He has an affable personality, one that lends to building a positive relationship with every player on the Los Angeles Lakers' roster.

With that said, it was mighty telling that it was Hill, of all people, who spoke out following the Lakers' 120-118 loss to Cleveland on Tuesday, pointing the finger somewhere other than the big men after the Lakers were outrebounded 48-35 by the Cavaliers, leading to 19 second-chance points.

[+] EnlargeNick Young
Jennifer Stewart/USA TODAY SportsNick Young took on the Suns to start the Grammy trip. His teammates have responded with two straight wins.
"We have guards that get to the basket so our bigs step up," Hill said. "Sometimes our guards will fall asleep and won't box out."

It was more matter-of-fact than scathing, but there it was -- the first crack in the purple-and-gold facade between teammates this season. The smelling salts moment of realization that this group of likable Laker players -- which back in training camp longtime team trainer Gary Vitti called the closest squad he has ever been a part of in his 30 years with the franchise -- had fallen so far from mounting losses and an incredible number of injuries, that it was now playing the blame game.

It turns out Hill's comment was just the tip of the iceberg. Because one night later, after the Lakers fell 121-114 to Phoenix for their 12th loss in their last 13 games (including six straight while giving up 110-plus points to the opponent), that crack became an all-out fissure as the Lakers' locker room was split over Nick Young's ejection.

The quick synopsis: Young took a hard foul in the second quarter and was surrounded by several Suns players without any Lakers teammates intervening. Young was then ejected for shoving his way out of the pack after he was called for a punching foul for making contact with Suns guard Goran Dragic. After the game, Young said he was mad no teammate had come to his defense.

Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni and point guard Kendall Marshall both said Young should have been smarter, and with the Lakers only having nine players in uniform, they couldn't afford to lose their leading scorer. Others, like Pau Gasol and Wesley Johnson, empathized with how Young felt but also noted NBA rules prevented them from springing from the bench to his defense.

Rookie Ryan Kelly was spared criticism from his teammates -- Gasol noted that Kelly "was trying to hold a couple guys up" as the closest Laker to the play -- but was thoroughly criticized by former Laker, Robert Horry, on the team's flagship television station.

"That happened to me in college and my teammates weren't there for me," Horry said during the postgame broadcast on Time Warner Cable SportsNet. "Especially Kelly. You are right there. And those guys start pushing your teammate and you don't push those guys back, you sit there and you watch."

Kelly got wind of Horry's words on his smartphone after the game and was visibly upset by it, approaching several Lakers staffers to express his frustration for being called out.

All in all, it was a sad scene on top of another night of bad basketball.

The Lakers were beaten on the boards again against the Suns, 53-43, giving up 23 second-chance points.

D'Antoni was asked if Hill's assessment of the guards' culpability rang true.

"I would say that," D'Antoni said of the guards being a contributing factor. "But, it should start with 'I,' first and then you go to the guards and then you go to everybody else. So, as long as they put, 'I need to do better,' then I'm OK with that. Guys are getting a little frustrated, but everybody is in there and trying to do their best. Yeah, we can do a better job of cracking back [with the guards], but we just have to have a little bit more fight."

So long as it's not infighting.

"It's not easy to accumulate this amount of losses in a row and to be in the position that we're in right now," Gasol said. "It's easy to kind of let [yourself] be taken over by the frustration, but so far, we're still going out there and trying to play together and trying to cover for each other and that's what we got to do. We got to stay positive amongst these circumstances."

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0