Los Angeles Lakers: transition

The Lords of Discipline

April, 30, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
The three most common ways the word "discipline" is applied to the Lakers:

1) As a verb to convey punishment handed down by the league. The most recent examples include Metta World Peace's current seven-game suspension, or the four-game sentence served at the beginning of the season by Andew Bynum.

2) With the prefix "un" in front of it, and a "d" at the end.

3) As part of the phrase "a team that lacks discipline."

One element that's always impressed me about the Spurs throughout the Popovich/Duncan era is the methodical nature of those teams. Whether up 15, down 15, or in the middle of a close game, they always seemed to be playing exactly the same way. Players become metronomes in high-tops, plugging away towards a common purpose rarely if ever abandoned. Obviously, like all teams, the Spurs will experience mental lapses. But rare are the games where I've seen San Antonio beat itself, and that's in part because, collectively and consistently, they're an exceptionally disciplined bunch.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Sessions was part of an exceptionally disciplined approach on both sides of the ball.

On the flip side, this is my seventh season covering the Lakers, and even during the winning titles stretches, a disciplined approach has never been their calling card. This is a group with a penchant for inexplicably breaking away from what's working, typically because they'd rather settle for jumpers than make an extra pass to find a better shot. Impatience rears its ugly head on a regular basis. Short cuts will be taken in an attempt to knock out a team in the third quarter, rather than systematically build a lead through four. Minds will wander with a cushion, and that daydreaming allows an opponent to get back into a contest.

In broader terms, the issue would be labeled "inconsistency," but I've always felt the root of the problem is a lack of personal discipline.

Thus, it kind of blew my mind Sunday watching the Lakers play what was certainly their most disciplined game of the season, and perhaps the last few years. When you go down the checklist of matters requiring restraint against the Nuggets, the Lakers passed with flying colors.

- From start to finish, the Lakers controlled tempo through an insistence on forcing their pace and refusing to get sucked into Denver's running game. Shots were launched sensibly within the offense, which cut down on run-out opportunities against an unbalanced defense. They also took care of the ball, turning it over just 11 times against a squad capable of inducing turnovers. And on the occasions where Denver did shift into fifth gear, transition defense was in furious effect, the angles cut off and the lane protected. Even Matt Barnes, playing on a bad ankle, managed to track down Corey Brewer from behind and poke the ball away.

On the season, the Nuggets led the league in points in the paint (53.4) and fast break points (19.8), while ranking third in points off turnovers (19.7). On Sunday, they scored just 44 total in the paint, 19 fast break points and 12 points off turnovers. The Lakers can easily live with those results.

- Defensively, the Lakers were as alert, alive and active. Denvers shooters were rarely left wide open, even by bigs forced to challenge in space or along the perimeter. Rotations were crisp and purposeful. Bynum clearly turned the game upside down with his paint presence, but Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill also blocked a pair of shots. Denver shot a miserable 35.6 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from Downtown en route to a scant 88 points, all far below the seasonal averages of the NBA's most prolific team.

- On Friday, I wrote about the pressure facing Devin Ebanks, Hill and Ramon Sessions while making their postseason debuts. All three are young players, potentially prone to the magnitude of this moment. But rather than attempting to do too much or playing out of control, we saw a trio of composed performances. Unfortunately, Hill is now dealing with a potential distraction, but in theory, this was a nice sign for the less experienced Lakers moving forward.

Again, it was a triumph of discipline, the importance of which can't be overlooked.

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Kobe Bryant
22.3 5.6 1.3 34.5
ReboundsJ. Hill 8.0
AssistsK. Bryant 5.6
StealsR. Price 1.6
BlocksE. Davis 1.3