Two Steps Back

 —  December 18, 2004

We’ve given each other some hard lessons lately
But we ain’t learnin’
We’re the same sad story that’s a fact
One step up and two steps back

One Step Up
Bruce Springsteen

Welcome to a weekend cornucopia of thoughts, starting with last night’s Laker loss and moving on to a bunch of other stuff collecting in my inbox:

• Defense. Last night against Washington it was transition defense. In previous games it was perimeter defense or interior defense. In all its forms, the Lakers don’t play it consistently and that has been their biggest weakness this season.

• Last night’s biggest defensive culprit was Chucky Atkins. Sure, he scored 23, but he must have given up 40 (I don’t chart the game so I have no idea what that number actually is). Did you notice that in the overtime, when they weren’t on a fast break, Washington used a high pick-and-roll with whichever guard Atkins was on, Gilbert Arenas (37 points) or Larry Hughes (33)? It worked, so they kept going to that well.

(I don’t want to let Kobe off the hook here. Sure he had a triple double, but his defense was not much better than Chucky’s until the end of the game.)

• Right now, more than anything, the Lakers need a true point guard who can play defense. (And Tierre is not the long-term answer.)

• The Lakers other big problem last night was turnovers. Last night the Lakers had 17 (the Wizards had 6), which was a big part of Washington’s 20 fast break points (double the Lakers total). Like poor defense, this follows the season pattern for the team — even in wins they often have more turnovers than their opponents — and also could be partially solved by a better point.

• Don’t know if you caught the Sports Guy’s latest column about his observations at Clipper games, but he spends a little bit of it on the Lakers. He gets into the soap opera crap too much for my taste, but does agree with me about the need for a point guard. Anyway, he wrote one thing that really caught my eye:

During the Clips game, with Kobe on pace for a shot a minute — he finished with 32 shots in 37 minutes — Odom snapped in the third quarter and started screaming at everyone: Kobe, Rudy T., Atkins, you name it. “GET ME THE (EXPLETIVE) BALL!” How could you blame him? He knew he could take Moore off the dribble. So they ran a few plays for him and Odom scored eight of the next ten points: Easy points, too. He could have scored 40 against this Clippers team; nobody could guard him.

Well, guess what? Kobe didn’t like that. He launched the final three shots of the quarter.

I’d be lying if I said I remembered that exact situation and he is trying to be hard on Kobe, but it does fit another theme for this team — not sticking with what works. Example A: Jumaine Jones against Orlando. We do it often, turning away from the hot hand or play to go to something else.

Some of that has to fall on Rudy T., who either isn’t calling what works and wants to vary his routine for no good reason, or he isn’t forcing his players to stick with it.

• By the way, back to my point guard theme. Before the season, in the clustterf%$&*@! that became the Gary Payton trade, the Lakers almost got Marcus Banks. At the time missing out on him really pissed me off, now I’m not so sure it was a bad thing. Reading Boston Celtics blogs and some news accounts, Banks is not loved:

Doc (Rivers) is so unhappy with Marcus’ play, that he’s fine using (Ricky) Davis at the point:

“I thought Marcus struggled in the first half, and if you’re going to struggle in the first half I’ve got to go in another direction,” said Rivers. “And I had to go with Ricky tonight. Is that where I want to go? No. But, you know, if I’m going to tell Al (Jefferson) that he has to earn minutes – if I’m going to tell Kendrick (Perkins) that he has to earn minutes – then I’ve got to tell Marcus he has to earn minutes, as well.”

• The excellent site Hoops Analyst has crunched the numbers and posted a list of the most-improved players so far this year. Topping the list: King James. Which is amazing. Within the next 18 months he will pass Kobe as the best perimeter player in the game.

• While we’re talking stats, Kickerblogger has posted the league leaders in PER so far this season. At the top of the list is the usual cast of characters — Duncan, Garnett, Nowitzki. Kobe is ninth.

• The Lakers remain one of the most marketable teams in the nation — they rank second in sales of merchandise bearing their logo. The Knicks top the list and the Bulls are third. Which just goes to show it’s nice to have a team in a big city, win or lose.

• I wrote a few weeks ago that Deavon George was going to start practicing with the team, but that turns out not to be the case yet. He apparently is still several weeks away.

• Brian Grant, on the other hand, is starting to practice with the team as of Sunday. Joel Meyer said earlier in the week the target date for Grant’s return was Christmas day, although that may be a tad optimistic. I just hope it’s soon, a low-post defender and rebounder sure would help right now. (Another question, when he comes off the IR, who goes on? Sahsa? Slava? Luke?)