Not-so-easy pickings for Lakers
After a relatively soft schedule, L.A. and its struggling offense face major challenges
LOS ANGELES -- There was so much going on at Staples Center on Monday night that the significance of the pregame glimpse of Shaquille O'Neal walking the hallways in a suit prepping for the TNT telecast while Kobe Bryant was in the locker room prepping for a game barely caused a blip on the radar.
There were bigger things to worry about. Would Bryant's 40-point streak continue? Did the Lakers have any revenge in store for the Mavericks after Dallas swept them out of the playoffs with a 36-point drubbing in Game 4 last spring? What would the crowd reaction be when Lamar Odom checked into the game wearing a Mavs uniform?
As much as Odom's presence was a welcome sight, the only thing "L.O." really stood for in the Lakers' 73-70 win over the Mavericks was lousy offense.
The Lakers are lost on offense and better get found before they find themselves piling up losses.
The Lakers are two games into a brutal six-game stretch that has begun with the Clippers and Dallas in L.A. and will be followed in short order by road games in Miami and Orlando, then home tilts against the improved Pacers and a rematch against the Clippers bookending the run.
New Lakers coach Mike Brown has gotten his players to buy in on defense, giving the team a chance to win on any night, but they'll need both facets of their game to click in order to compete with the teams coming up on the schedule.
"We're a big-time work in progress," said Derek Fisher, who didn't spend much time basking in the glory of his latest clutch 3-pointer before dwelling on the work that needs to be done so games won't come down to the Lakers needing a shot like that to bail out a win.
"Offensively, we're really, really struggling," Fisher said. "We have to find a way to be more efficient on the offensive end."
There were sure to be some bumps in the road as Brown implemented his strong-corner offense to replace Phil Jackson's triangle with which most of the roster was familiar. Couple the new playbook with a lack of practice time because of the lockout-shortened season, and it's really no surprise. Brown said he hasn't had a single full-contact practice with his team since training camp ended.
"We're thinking about what we're doing," Fisher said. "We're thinking on the offensive end, and until we stop thinking on the floor offensively, we're going to continue to struggle."
Before the game, Brown was asked what his ideal offensive chemistry would look like.
"Kobe getting 25 points [Andrew] Bynum getting 22 points Pau [Gasol] getting 20 points Fish [Derek Fisher] getting 12 points Metta [World Peace] getting 15 points " the coach rattled off.
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Bryant had 14 points on 7-for-22 shooting against Dallas, Bynum had 17 on 8-for-13, Gasol had 14 on 3-for-11 and World Peace had just two with a 1-for-7 line.
There have been some real warning signs during the Lakers' 10-5 start that didn't manifest themselves in a worse team record because in four of those games Bryant went bonkers and carried them on offense with 40-plus points; only seven of those games were against teams that made the playoffs last year; and 11 of those games have been played in L.A.
Not to be too negative about the offense so far, but the turnovers have been an epidemic, the 3-point shooting has been inaccurate and the offensive balance has been virtually nonexistent.
Brown and Bryant already worked through a mini-crisis together, getting Bryant's offense back on track after his anemic 6-for-28 showing in Denver on New Year's Day by reviewing game tape together. Now it's time to fix it for everybody else.
"They're still learning," Brown said. "For instance, I put in three new plays [on Sunday]. I put them in because I feel like they're better for our team than what we've been doing. So, that may continue to happen from time to time until I put my thumb on it and have a great feel not only for where Kobe needs the ball, but where everybody else needs the ball to be effective."
Brown said he is still using games to teach, and the more these players are on the floor together, the offense will surely start to click just through repetition and learning one another's tendencies. But with the tough stretch in the schedule the Lakers find themselves in, there's no time to wait.
Bryant was asked how long it should take for the offense to hit on all cylinders.
"The next game," Bryant said. "The next game."
Yes, the Lakers would be well-served to have some offensive fire power when going up against the Heat.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.