Lakers' problems remain fixable
Despite doom and gloom -- and a loss in N.Y. -- players know things can change
NEW YORK -- The game certainly had the feel of a "death knell" -- to borrow a phrase from Phil Jackson -- with every one of the New York Knicks' 12 made 3-pointers seemingly another shovel of dirt on the Los Angeles Lakers' grave, but maybe the 116-107 loss Thursday was just a loss.
Think about it. The Lakers lost by nine points to a very good Knicks team on the road with L.A. coming into the game with a 2-7 road record and New York coming in undefeated at Madison Square Garden.
There are certainly some things to be troubled by if you're a Lakers fan, but there also are attainable solutions to some of the problems they're showing on the court.
Let's start with some of the troubles, with their 9-14 record at the top of the list.
In the NBA's past three full seasons, the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference has averaged 48 wins. After Thursday, the Lakers need to go 39-20 to reach that mark, basically win two out of every three remaining games. Up to this point this season, they've been winning only two out of every five.
A championship can't be won if a team misses the playoffs, of course. That's the major trouble the Lakers find themselves in after letting their problems pile up.
A recurring one is giving up poison-pill quarters. They allowed the Knicks to put up 41 in the first period Thursday. Orlando dropped 40 on them in the fourth quarter in a loss. Utah dropped 35 in the second quarter in a loss. Oklahoma City put 41 on them in the second quarter, another L. You get the picture.
How do you stop it?
"Come back and score, but we got to get stops," Dwight Howard said. "We got to do a better job on the defensive end."
How can they also help themselves out on defense? Cutting down on turnovers. They had three in the first quarter leading to seven New York points.
"The turnovers, I think. Coupled with sometimes a lack of movement and penetration, not only does it hurt the offense, but it also really hurts our defense," Steve Nash said. "Even if we don't turn it over sometimes, if we don't get in the paint and create opportunities, we end up with long, guarded jump shots. And if that's a long rebound, they're off to the races and very difficult to guard."
There's a cause-and-effect going on here. The Lakers have identified the cause, now they need to eliminate those mistakes -- which is completely doable -- to rid themselves of those negative effects.
Get Nash back in there -- he's set to practice next week -- and automatically that problem is being worked on by a Hall of Fame point guard who knows the offense inside and out.
What's another problem?
"On the offensive end, we got to move the ball and share it," Howard said, making a not-too-veiled reference to Kobe Bryant after Bryant had 24 shots to Howard's 11. The Lakers had just 13 assists on 35 field goals.
Bryant seemingly self-corrected on this one, picking up five of his six assists in the second half as he embraced point guard duties when just a few games ago he publicly bristled about how he was having to key more pick-and-rolls than he ever has in his 17-year career.
"Just trying to be a point guard, in the sense of trying to draw some more attention and get open looks, and hopefully they'll knock them down and kind of get the ball rolling a little bit, and pushing tempo a little bit," Bryant said, accepting the challenge of picking up the slack during Nash's absence and also realizing how his team needs him most these days.
Every player on the roster has to be willing to adapt to change, as does coach Mike D'Antoni. He said after the game that he needs to continue to activate Howard on offense through pick-and-rolls. Howard said after the game he just wants to post up.
"How am I the most comfortable? Just give me the ball," Howard said. When asked where on the court he wants the ball, he replied: "That's obvious. On the block. Where else?"
D'Antoni called post-ups the least efficient play in basketball at his introductory news conference. He also has pulled Pau Gasol out of the post when he has been on the court.
How do you solve it? Both sides bend a little. Gasol has to work to get better in the midrange and D'Antoni has to work to get Gasol some post touches to keep him engaged.
"It's been a huge adjustment for all of us," Bryant said. "We have some figuring out to do and we have some key pieces that are out. When they come back we'll get this thing locked and loaded and make some adjustments."
It's not time to dig any graves even if it seems like the Lakers are digging a deeper hole by the day. Nash will be back. So will Gasol, who has sat out the past six games because of knee tendinitis. Howard's back will continue to heal -- heck, his mere presence is already a bonus, as he said after Thursday's shootaround that he wasn't supposed to be back until January.
It's not time to blow everything up with trades or to fire the coach (again) or scrap the offense. It's time for patience.
"Our spirits are down. We've got to find a way to get over that and play with a little more spirit and find that chemistry and connectivity and build each other up, because it's not been easy," Nash said. "We have guys who are injured, we have a new coach, we have Dwight still coming back from back surgery. It's kind of a perfect storm of 'Look at this roster and how great it should be,' and 'Why aren't they great?' Just nothing has really gone our way yet. But if we keep battling, maybe this adversity will afford us a lot later in the year."
The Lakers have a steep hill to climb, but it isn't insurmountable. One step at a time.