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Sunday, April 4, 2010
Updated: April 5, 10:07 PM ET
Sharper Angles

By Dave McMenamin

LOS ANGELES -- Luke Walton returned to the Los Angeles Lakers' lineup on Sunday, playing for the first time since Feb. 10, but even The Great Facilitator couldn't sharpen the edges on the suddenly dull triangle offense.

The Lakers shot just 41 percent from the field and 24 percent from 3-point territory in Sunday's 100-81 loss to San Antonio.

Those numbers might be good for nine holes of golf, but are terrible for a team trying to hone its play with just 10 days remaining before its regular-season finale.

"What we need to execute better in games to start winning again is our offense," Walton declared after his two assists weren't nearly enough of a boon to counteract the meager four points on 2-for-15 shooting by the rest of the bench.

For all of the talented individuals Los Angeles has on the offensive end -- Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol both score about as well as any other players at their respective positions -- there's a cohesion missing when all the individual pieces are put together.

Cohesion matters more in an offense such as the triangle than any other scheme implemented in the NBA. Spacing the floor, passing to the open man, moving the ball to get the defense off balance are as vital components to making it successful as 3-D glasses, IMAX theatres and advancements in special effects were to Avatar.

"But working on our offense isn't really going to help because everyone knows it and we know what needs to be done, we just for some reason haven't been doing that consistently," Walton said. "When we do do it, we played Utah, one of the hottest teams in the league, two nights ago and we beat them up all ball-game long pretty much."

It wasn't all bad on offense Sunday as Gasol scored a season-high 32 points on 13-for-20 shooting and Derek Fisher carried over his strong shooting night against the Jazz with a 3-for-4 clip against the Spurs

Luke Walton
Luke Walton's first day back to work needed a little work.
But even Gasol, who has clamored for more touches all season, didn't like his points coming at the expense of the team's flow.

"I think we used the post pretty well tonight," Gasol said. "More than usual, which I'm happy about, but again, we always have to try to get that balance and try to get that ball to move side to side."

With Andrew Bynum and his 15 points per game average sidelined indefinitely with a strained left Achilles' tendon, it stands to reason Gasol is going to receive more touches, but there were other inexcusable actions in the Lakers' offense.

Or, as head coach Phil Jackson put it, "We had too many things going on out there that were not right."

First, they settled for too many 3-pointers.

Ron Artest's shot selection was particularly egregious. Artest, who carved out a niche in the offense earlier this season as the team's leading 3-point maker, was just 2-for-9 from deep against the Spurs. Thanks to a horrendous 6-for-33 (18.2 percent) mark in his past seven games, his 3-point percentage has plummeted to 36.2 after registering in the low 40s all season long.

Even Artest's brother, Daniel, was moved to tweet during the game, "I wonder if Ron friends tell him to just shoot 3's. Hmmm. Ron gotta get back to his roots. Posting up. Maybe I need to visit b4 tha P'offs."

There's a saying that Syracuse's hall of fame basketball coach Jim Boeheim likes to use when his players take uncharacteristic shots: "There's a reason you're open, they don't guard you there because they know you can't hit that shot."

"I don't think that's the main issue," Artest offered. "The shots will go down."

He's right about his shooting not being the main issue, but it is one of a myriad of issues bogging down the Lakers' offense right now.

While Artest was missing from deep, Bryant was missing from everywhere, going just 8-for-24 a game after shooting an even more anemic 5-for-23 against Utah on Friday.

This isn't meant to harp on Bryant. He is going to have his off nights when he's playing with a fractured index finger on his shooting hand. Jackson also explained that Bryant's legs are still getting back into the shape they were before his left ankle and tendon injury made him miss five games in February

But there were a few instances Sunday when Bryant strayed from the offense and tried to go one-on-one out of the frustration of either his man scoring on the other end or a foul call that didn't go his way, and the result was either bad shots or turnovers.

Bryant had four turnovers against San Antonio, the 25th time this season he's had four or more turnovers in a game.

If it's not Artest's and Bryant's shooting slumps, it's Lamar Odom's inconsistency. A game after his brilliant 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting Friday, Odom finished with just nine points against the Spurs when he had his slashing ability deactivated by smaller, mobile defenders and didn't adjust fast enough to operate out of the post more.

Offense is always connected to defense, of course, and the best way to get the basket to look a little bigger in a half-court set is creating some turnovers on defense and getting easy run-outs in transition.

But as the Lakers look forward to the playoffs against stiffer competition and teams that take care of the basketball, they can't count on fast-break basketball to pad their scoring totals. They are going to have to tinker with the triangle in the half court.

"It's just getting it to click," said Walton, a certified triangle expert after filling in as an assistant coach tracking the Lakers' offensive possessions for the latter part of the 22 games he missed with a back injury. "That needs to happen. It's not like we have to go back to Day 1 of training camp and draw new stuff up, it's there. The knowledge is there, we've done it before. We just have to all do it together consistently."