Ugh.

Kurt —  April 10, 2007

Right now, if I were a fan of the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns or San Antonio Spurs, I’d be praying we could face the Lakers in the first round.

The other three teams at the bottom of the West — the Clippers, Golden State and the Nuggets — are starting to put things together, playing some of their best ball of the season. They have talent and pose a threat — not a huge threat to the three powerhouses, but a threat nonetheless.

The Lakers need to guard someone before they can be considered a threat. Laker fans can and have tended to blame individuals here, and while blame may not be equally divided the Lakers failings on defense are a team effort.

On the season, the Lakers have a rather sad defensive rating of 106 (points per 100 opponent possessions), which is 24th in the league. But in the last 10 games they are at 110.8. And slipping.

Phil got desperate enough to go to the zone defense last night — and he abhors the zone defense. Ironically it worked, the Nuggets shot under 50% for the second half and the Lakers had a late chance to win. But you can’t play a seven-game series in a zone, over the course of a series it will be about adjustments and smart rotations. And I’ve seen little evidence of those things lately, at least on any consistent basis.

That’s why the idle speculation of the Lakers losing some games to get a favorable playoff matchup makes no sense — if this team had an on/off switch it could throw then maybe this theory holds water. Does anyone think this team can just “flip the switch” on again?

And sadly, that’s what I’m left rooting for. That and a lot more zone defense.

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I think the team’s defensive woes have impacted the offense. My guess is this is why were are seeing people breaking out of the triangle offense more and more — with few defensive stops, there is a desperate feeling the Lakers need to score on every trip down the court.

Kobe is particularly suited to be sucked into this trap. In part because he believes he can carry the team to wins, and in part because he has carried this team to wins. When things get tight he wants the ball, and right now things are always tight.

The Lakers need to get back to running the offense more consistently, moving without the ball every time down. They do it, but not consistently. Still, they are scoring plenty of points and execution of the triangle is not the answers to the problems with this team, it is defense.

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Interesting words from the Laker coach that knows Bynum best, Kareem, in today’s LA Times.

I think Andrew wants everything to work and unless it works, he’s not going to try, so he’s become very tentative….

“I don’t sense frustration, but Andrew’s pretty stoic. .He’s not giving me all of it. He wants people to see him as a man and he wants to go out there and do a good job.

“He has the physical ability to do it. Learning how to apply those gifts in a competitive environment is a very difficult thing. It just doesn’t happen. I was glad this year that he got a chance to play a lot. That’s really served him well. I guess that’s part of the problem [too]. It’s made him maybe more reticent. It can’t always work out the way you want it. He’s seeing the other side of that now.”

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There has been a little speculation in Lakerland and elsewhere about the Lakers falling out of the playoff race. It’s not impossible, but it’s not likely.

The Lakers magic number is two, meaning a combination of Laker wins and Warrior losses (for Clippers it is three). I’d like to say that with the Clippers, Suns, Sonics and Kings on the schedule for the Lakers should win three, but that seems unlikely. Two seems reasonable, one a possibility. By the way, go 1-3 the rest of the way and the Lakers finish 41-41.

The Lakers have the tiebreaker with Golden State, having swept the season series. But for fun, let’s say the Lakers go 1-3 in their last four — then the Warriors would have to go undefeated the rest of the way. They play Dallas, so that seems unlikely. They also would have to beat Minnesota, Sacramento and Portland. Doable, but a heck of a mountain to climb.

The Lakers play the Clippers Thursday and can pretty much guarantee a playoff spot with a win — they would then have the tiebreaker against the Clips, and the Laker magic number would be one. Which would mean the Lakers would have to lose their last three while the Clippers won their last four, including one against the Suns and two back-to-backs.

So yes, it could happen, but basically the Lakers would have to lose out while Golden State went 3-1 and the Clippers 5-1. Not likely, but you know it’s going to be all over talk radio.

Kurt

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