Defense lets Lakers down

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One of the cooler things about working at Time Warner Cable SportsNet is working side-by-side with Lakers legend “Big-Game” James Worthy. 

Prior to tip-off, I asked him what the Lakers needed to gets some wins on the road. But there were rules to this game: two word phrases only.

Without hesitation he said, “better defense.”  The Lakers have more than 100 points in seven of their 11 games thus far.  If they can put up a defensive stand like they did against the Nets (33 points in the second half) they will be a tough team to beat.

After defense he came up with “less turnovers.”  Lakers are averaging 16 turnovers per game.  Only five other teams in the NBA are doing worse.

Before the game coach Mike D’Antoni talked about getting better in the areas that need it: “We just need to keep harping on our principles, once we get them down I don’t care who we play.”

The Lakers had a hard time getting revved up.  There was little to no run-and-gun that people want to see with a D’Antoni-coached team.  But there were a few moments in the first half that provided a little excitement. 

With 7:40 left in the first quarter Darius Morris hit a nice buzzer-beater to make the game 10-6.  John Salmons came out on fire as he hit the first 9 points for the Kings.

The Kings went on an 11-0 run to start the second quarter to go up 26-24.  Coach D’Antoni had enough of his bench getting torched so he sent the starters back in.  Bryant responded by hitting back-to-back threes to put the Lakers up 30-26.

The first half also saw some not so exciting moments like fewer than 40 percent free throw shooting, 13 turnovers, and Howard not scoring until 1:16 left in the half on an alley-oop from Pau Gasol.

The Kings went up by 11 in the third quarter with aggressive play in the paint and taking advantage of Lakers turnovers.  For the second time this game, Bryant had to hit multiple 3-pointers in a row to keep the purple and gold in the game.

Going into the fourth the Lakers were down 73-69.  A continued lack of effort on defense, more turnovers, and a 9-0 run the team couldn’t recover from spelled the end of the game for the Lakers as they were handed a 113-97 loss.

There was one bright spot however.  Jodie Meeks finally showed the reason why the Lakers picked him up this off-season.  While Kobe was on the bench in the fourth, Meeks racked up 12 of his 15 points, two from 3-land.

”I thought we were very lethargic from the opening [tip],” says D’Antoni, “The first half might have been the worst basketball I have seen in 10 years.”

D’Antoni credits the lack of energy the team had for the loss.  He says he liked the defensive effort the team showed in the first quarter, holding the Kings to just 15.  After that the D was virtually absent the rest of the game.

There wasn’t much energy on the offensive side of the ball either: “If we want to play ‘Showtime’ my God they just closed the whole theater on us, it was like ‘are-you-kidding Showtime,’ we want to get close to that.  Tonight was more like ‘Muppet Time.’”

Dwight Howard posted a dismal seven points, three of which came from the line.

“It’s over with now,” he said. “We got another game coming up.  We will do a better job on both ends, I will and the team will.”

Howard says he won’t let this one poor performance get him down, “We can’t get discouraged, we can’t let one game affect us.  We are going to have games like this. We just have to come back the next game with a better attitude and better effort.”

The Mamba posted 38 points against the Kings on a “bad ankle”, hence the first thing out of his mouth tonight being “I’m alright.”

As far as his other teammates, namely Darius Morris and how he performed slipped down the stretch, “It happens to everybody,” says Bryant, “Nobody is going to have a great game every game.  You just have to learn from what happened and figure some things out and be better.”

On this night the Lakers missed their 110-115 point average D’Antoni expects.  No worries say the All-Star guard. “He knows what we can be,” says Bryant, “he is just constantly pushing forward.  It’s a little bit of an adjustment in terms of getting up the floor, but it’ll get there.”

Lakers Nation is hoping sooner rather than later.  The team stays on the road for their next two games facing another back-to-back set of games Friday in Memphis and Saturday in Dallas.

You can follow JD Carrere on Twitter at @sportsnetjunkie.

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