Heading into the Lakers’ season-long 7-game road trip featuring some of the league’s tougher places to win, Phil Jackson saw an opportunity for his team to at best regain and at least build towards the championship level of last season’s playoffs.
Through two victories over New Orleans (101-95) and Memphis (93-84), Jackson is getting what he’d hoped for, at least out of his defense. It wasn’t entirely positive, not with the allowance of 29 rather easy first quarter points to the Grizzlies and 32 third quarter points to the Hornets, yet the D was generally staunch, and at its most imposing level in crunch time.
Memphis scored only 10 fourth quarter points until two meaningless triples in the final 53 seconds with the Lakers up 91-78, while Chris Paul and Co. managed just 13 points in their fourth quarter.
It’s prudent to remember that the Lakers are still getting fully schooled in the 2010-11 defensive adjustments that have bigs Andrew Bynum and to a lesser extent Pau Gasol staying home in the paint more than in previous seasons, but the paint packing is progressing and starting to give teams like Memphis fits.
“They took away the paint where we do our most damage,” said Pau’s brother Marc Gasol, the Memphis center who made just 5-of-14 shots, three more than Zach Randolph’s 2-for-14. “I think we got a little frustrated at the end. We didn’t get what we wanted. When you don’t execute against teams like this one it’s really hard to get buckets.”
“They came and played championship defense tonight,” added Grizzlies Coach Lionel Hollins. “You’re not just going to pound the ball inside and beat their length. You have to attack inside, get the ball out and get it moving. You have to make shots, and we weren’t able to do that consistently.”
Jackson, when asked what the Lakers did to win the game despite missing 14 free throws, turning the ball over 14 times, shooting 43 percent from the field and getting out-rebounded 45-43, had this to say: “We played good defense. Our defense was sound, we didn’t let them get a lot of stuff inside and we controlled the tempo for most of the game.”
“That’s what a good team does,” Jackson continued. “They learn how to lock a team down and come out in the fourth quarter and play defense.”
The Lakers know that playing outstanding defense is mandatory if they’re to avenge Boston’s win on their floor on Jan. 30, when Rajon Rondo had nine assists towards 32 fourth quarter points for the Celtics, who shoot a league-best 49.9 percent from the field on the season.
“You have to,” said Gasol, his Lakers ranking fifth in the NBA in field goal defense at 44.2 percent. “You have to be physical, active, communicative out there in order to succeed. We have two days to watch film and understand what happened in that game, how they beat us. We’re going to have to be really physical, really solid, really aggressive in order to be successful in Boston.”
The film watching commenced on Tuesday when the team arrived in Beantown, and while some Lakers went through workouts at a nearby gym, the team would not hold an official practice until Wednesday.