Monthly Archive for November, 2012

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Lakers Meet with Phil Jackson

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and Executive VP Jim Buss met with Phil Jackson on Saturday, and agreed to talk again in a couple of days.

The topic of conversation, of course, was the head coaching vacancy created by the firing of Mike Brown on Friday morning. Among those in favor of a third tour of duty for Jackson in Los Angeles is Kobe Bryant.

“You guys know how I feel about Phil,” said Bryant after Friday’s win over Golden State. “One thing that’s always bothered me is that his last year I wasn’t able to give him my normal self. I was playing on one leg and that’s always eaten away at me. The last year of his career, I wasn’t able to give him everything I had.

“For me, I took it to heart because I couldn’t give him everything I had because I physically couldn’t – my knee was shot. That’s always bothered me.”

Bryant is referencing the 4-0 sweep at the hands of Dallas in the 2011 Western Semi’s, when his knee was a big problem, and the team appeared mentally spent after three consecutive trips to the Finals. Bryant said Jackson’s greatness made it difficult on whoever was going to follow him.

“A lot of it is Phil’s fault,” Bryant offered. “He teaches guys to be thinkers. This is how he teaches. He teaches us the little nuances, the details and the intricacies of the game that just a lot of people don’t know. It’s no fault of their own. When it comes to basketball, he’s genius level. It’s tough for anybody to step in those shoes afterward from players that were raised underneath that tutelage.”

While Kupchak, Jim Buss and Dr. Jerry Buss determine the future of the coaching position, Bernie Bickerstaff will continue as interim head coach.

Bickerstaff gave the players the day off on Saturday in advance of Sunday’s home game against Sacramento.

Steve Nash Injury Update

Steve Nash will miss at least one more week due to a small non-displaced fracture in the head of his fibula originally suffered on Oct. 31 in a Lakers loss at Portland.

Nash was examined by team doctor Steve Lombardo on Friday evening during the team’s win over Golden State, with the determination being made that he’d miss home games against Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix.

The 2-time MVP point guard has been going through individual drills with player development coach Phil Handy, but needs more time for his leg to heal before resuming contact drills with his teammates.

He’ll be re-evaluated at the end of the week.

Lakers 101, Warriors 77: Nov. 9 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Friday night contest against Golden State, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Blake, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol and Howard
Warriors: S. Curry, K. Thompson, H. Barnes, D. Lee, F. Ezeli

FIRST QUARTER
4:20 It was a long day in Los Angeles, with news of the firing of Mike Brown coming in around 10 a.m., leading to GM Mitch Kupchak’s press conference at 12:30 p.m., and oh yeah, there was a game to play against the Warriors at 7:30 p.m. Bernie Bickerstaff, so long an NBA fixture, stepped in to handle interim duties as the coaching search began behind the scenes. On the floor, the energy – if not the shooting – was expectedly good for the Lakers to start, keyed by Darius Morris dropping the first of two triples after two early fouls on starter Steve Blake. The first Morris three put L.A. up 17-13. Speaking of that energy: when a coach is fired, the players know it’s on them to show what they’re made of.

0:00 Despite only 36 percent shooting, the Lakers took a 23-22 lead out of the period, thanks to a 13-10 edge on the glass (five offensive). Gasol had six, and Morris seven as Kobe Bryant posted four assists. Also notable: Devin Ebanks was inactive after a legal incident from the previous night, and Jodie Meeks grabbed those minutes as Bryant got a rest.

SECOND QUARTER
5:05 L.A. opened by hitting only 3 of 12 triples despite a bevy of open looks, but Blake added the fourth to put the Lakers up five. On the ensuing possession, however, he committed his third foul to bring Morris back into the action. Speaking of threes … Bryant then hit his first, a deep one, to make it 41-35. Gasol had been very active on both ends, missing shots but collecting loads of boards (eight in the half).

0:00 A strong close to the quarter produced at most an 11-point lead that was 47-38 at the break. Bryant’s 13 points and five dimes led the way, but it was a collective defensive effort that held GSW to 32.6 percent shooting with eight turnovers was the difference.

THIRD QUARTER
8:30 A 5-0 LAL run, Gasol tipping in Bryant’s miss & Kobe converting an and-1 (4 PF’s on Klay Thompson) put LAL up 52-45 after they’d conceded a 7-0 Warriors run to start the quarter. A good reversal in a quarter that’s plagued L.A. to start the season.

0:00 The Lakers bench had perhaps its best stretch of the young campaign to close the third quarter, with triples from Jodie Meeks and MWP (who had been 0 for 10 from the field) pushing the lead all the way to 18. Gasol’s presence helped calm the unit, which spaced the floor well and got clean looks. After three, the lead was 72-55, the defense leading the way as GSW was at just 31.7 percent.

FOURTH QUARTER
8:24 The strong second half push continued, with Jordan Hill wreaking havoc on the offensive glass (L.A.’s 15th) to help open a 79-60 advantage. The rebounds, overall, were at 52-37, paced by 14 from Pau Gasol.

5:00 Kobe got a standing O coming off with LAL up 93-65, after 27 points 9 boards and 7 assists. He sparked LAL’s energy as he so often does, and was really terrific throughout the evening in a night the players looked to him for leadership. Gasol’s activity was rewarded with a season-high 16 rebounds, he too checking out early to watch the second unit. And they were pleased, as 37 bench points (to 23 for the Warriors) plus a bevy of rebounds (Antawn Jamison had seven and Morris five) helped lead to a blowout 101-77 victory. Meeks had a pretty crossover into a jumper to get Bryant and Howard on their feet cheering, Hill had 14 points with four boards, Morris had 10 points and five dimes with his five boards and Jamison added six points.

Ultimately, a long day in Los Angeles had a happy ending, a blowout victory behind a professional coaching job from a group of assistants unsure of their future. They were led by Bickerstaff, who praised the effort of the players after encouraging that they simply stop worrying and play the game they’d loved their whole lives. It worked on this Friday night. Up next, a Sunday tilt against Sacramento. We’ll see you there.

Mitch Kupchak Presser Transcript

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak addressed reporters to announce the firing of former head coach Mike Brown.

Below is a transcript of the press conference:

Opening statement:
Kupchak: Mike’s a good man and very hard working – maybe one of the hardest working coaches I’ve ever been around. The bottom line is that the team was not winning at the pace that we expected this team to win and we didn’t see improvement. We wish Mike (Brown) well and we’re sorry it ended this way. We’ve decided to move a different direction and make a change. For tonight’s game, Bernie Bickerstaff will be the acting head coach for the Lakers until we begin the process to search for a new head coach.

Q: On when the decision was made to relieve Brown of his duties and if there was any input from the players:
Kupchak: No input from the players that I’m aware of. Yesterday afternoon, last evening and this morning was the final determination of the decision.

Q: On whether he’s looking for a coach for the next couple years or for the long haul:
Kupchak: I think that would be one in the same. We’re not looking five or 10 years down the road. This team was built to contend this year. There’s no guarantee this team can win a championship, but we feel they can be deeply in the hunt. We also are aware that players are under contract for another year or two, and players are getting older, so our feeling is that we can contend at this level for a couple years. That’s our focus right now.

Q: On the limited coaching options:
Kupchak: It’s certainly a possibility that you go to another team. I think the bigger possibility is that you look to another team for an assistant coach. Clearly, great coaches in this league that have jobs would not be let out of their existing contracts with their team, so that’s not really a realistic possibility. There is a remote possibility that you look at assistants in a league, and of course, teams at that point would probably not stand in the way of a coach advancing his career. I think it’s more likely that we’ll look to coaches that are presently unemployed.

Q: On how long the search will last:
Kupchak: The sooner, the better. We don’t have a timetable, quite frankly, because this happened so quickly. The reality is you can’t call around and gauge coaches’ interests in this job. In the fraternity that exists, a coach wouldn’t say he has interest as long as somebody has the job. We didn’t even begin a search, but we do have a list that we put together, and we’ll go through that list in an orderly fashion.

Q: On the thought process of not allowing Brown a little more time to coach:
Kupchak: It’s really no different on what I touched on. You can argue: ‘Was last season a part of the process? Was the preseason a part of the process?’ After five games, we felt we weren’t winning and we weren’t seeing any improvement, and we made a decision. Maybe it would have changed a month down the road or three months down the road. But with this team, we didn’t want to wait three months and then find out it wasn’t going to change.

Q: On Brown’s system for the players:
Kupchak: There’s a defensive system and offensive system. That’s how you handle players. We did struggle to score and we introduced a new offense. To some degree, it was unfair to be categorized as the Princeton offense. It really wasn’t the Princeton offense; there were derivatives of the Princeton offense; there was a lot more mixed into it. But it was a system. The success I think Mike was hoping for didn’t come about very quickly, and as I mentioned, we had to make a quick decision.

Q: On if the move was made out of panic:
Kupchak: It wasn’t made out of panic. We were aware of this team’s progress through training camp and through the beginning of the season. Only yesterday did we come to the decision to make a change. Obviously everybody in this room knows we went 0-8 in preseason, which doesn’t mean a whole lot, but we’re 1-4 now. So it’s not like this came out of nowhere. It’s something that’s out there that we’ve been talking about internally. After our game against Utah, we came to this conclusion last night and early this morning to make a change.

Q: On the status of the rest of the coaching staff:
Kupchak: (The assistant coaches) will be there tonight. Beyond that, who knows. We have no immediate plans to make any changes in the next day or two.

Q: On the age and injury of players, and whether Brown’s tendency to work the players was a factor:
Kupchak: It’s really simple. It’s wins and losses, and Mike knows that. We’ve talked about that many times over the last year and a half. The fact we didn’t see progress played a part as well.

Q: On whether the team showed enough emotion playing:
Kupchak: I think there was plenty of emotion. They played hard and I saw a lot of frustration, and clearly there was a lot of emotion. Everybody cares, so I don’t think that was a problem.

Q: On whether any players lost Brown in this process:
Kupchak: Nothing from a player. We saw frustration and not a great deal of frustration, but there was some that we were seeing. But really, it came down to ownership and management – looking at the record, looking at the improvement level and wondering a month or two or three down the road if we’d be in the same spot.

Q: On what factored into this decision:
Kupchak: Without going through each game and each practice session, we’re 1-4, and cumulatively, we didn’t see any improvement that we had hoped to see.

Q: On reaching out to Phil Jackson:
Kupchak: When there’s a coach like Phil Jackson – one of the all-time greats – and he’s not coaching, you have to be negligent to be not aware that he’s out there. We’re putting together a list and an attack plan. We have not reached out to anybody at this time.

Q: On the qualities and philosophies they’re looking for from the next coach:
Kupchak: I think we’d like to see something the players can pick up on a little bit quicker. As I mentioned, I’m not sure we have the time to implement something complex. We want to start winning games and find out how good we really are. Certainly I’d think we’d look to an experienced coach.

Q: On how much of a factor played into the fact that Dwight Howard is a free agent next year:
Kupchak: It’s not something that was discussed among the three decision makers. We know (Dwight Howard) is a free agent this summer. You want to make the experience for him as good as possible. But we have a lot of other people we’re trying to please as well. We have a lot of fans and a lot of players, so it’s not just about one person.

Q: On the defensive shortcomings and how much played into the decision:
Kupchak: The two main reasons to making a change was the win-loss record and the fact that we didn’t see improvement. I guess we didn’t see a consistent performance … but we couldn’t seem to put together a consistent string of offensive and defensive performances.

Q: On what Bernie Bickerstaff and what his staff will run:
Kupchak: That’s a question for Bernie and we’ll find out tonight. He and I sat down for half an hour or 45 minutes and we basically had the same discussion I’m having with everybody today, and how we came to this decision. He understands our concerns and I’ll expect he’ll make some changes – maybe keep things a little simpler tonight. But you can’t change everything in a six-hour time period.

Q: On his assessment of Brown coaching here:
Kupchak: It was an incomplete evaluation. What he went through last year really wasn’t fair – making a trade that fell apart, one of the players was moved on (Lamar Odom) and the other player was scarred for a complete season (Pau Gasol). Then we made a trade as we approached the trade deadline to get a younger, ball handling point guard, and we did no worse than we did the year before. On top of that, it’s a strike-shortened season, so on top of that, it’s difficult to give a coach a grade.

Q: On if the players were having trouble grasping certain aspects of the new system:
Kupchak: It was a little odd. It’s a complex offense. When we introduced the Triangle, it seemed like it was decades ago. There was the same degree of skepticism on the players’ face, so there were some similarities. It certainly didn’t come about quickly. In fact, I never thought we got to the point where the offense was flowing. You’d see some flashes of it, but we never had a consistent flow throughout of the course of a game. They either weren’t getting it or it was going to take too long for them to get it, and we weren’t willing to find out which of the two it was.

Q: On how the team was assembled and if this offense fits those pieces:
Kupchak: Obviously we’re making a change, so we’re not completely comfortable with a couple different facets with the team and the way it was coached. Coaches make decisions going into the season and they’re very aware of the decisions they make … It’s hard to say to sit here and predict how the season would have turned out if we had a full season. It could have turned out just fine, but we weren’t willing to take that chance.

Q: On Pau Gasol thinking the coaching change was a wake up call for the players:
Kupchak: That’s not a part of what we’re trying to do, but obviously, it’s going to have that effect. I addressed the players and I made it very clear: we get evaluated on winning. Maybe a player would take it that way.

Q: On if there will be player input in the hiring of a next coach:
Kupchak: Maybe. We do have veterans on this team … Perhaps a coach or two we’re considering, we’ll run it past – not for their approval, but ‘tell us about this person.’ That’s not something we’ve decided to do yet, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

Q: On whether Bickerstaff or Eddie Jordan will be candidates for the job:
Kupchak: We don’t have a coach to replace Mike right now, but we do have an interim coach. There’s no guarantee, although I think it’s an attractive job, and I think we’ll get a coach. But if we don’t get the coach we want, and Bernie’s doing a great job, crazy things happen in this league. Going into it, and the way I explained it to Bernie was that’s not the plan, but certainly it’s a possibility.

Quote Round Up: Thursday Practice

Here’s a transcription of interviews from Kobe Bryant*, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Mike Brown from Thursday’s Lakers practice. The team faces the Golden State Warriors at STAPLES Center tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.

*Click on each name to watch the video.

KOBE BRYANT
Q: On how he feels physically:
Kobe: I feel pretty good, I feel pretty good. (The foot is) feeling a lot, lot better. It’s slow getting over the last hump, but it’s getting there.

Q: On what stood out on film in the loss against Utah:
Kobe: We had some great opportunities and we had some great looks at the basket that we didn’t make. Their ability to get out in transition and capitalize on easy opportunities was the difference in the game.

Q: On the video of him scowling on the bench:
Kobe: Everybody here would be frustrated to lose a game. You’re upset and you’re angry. It doesn’t have to do with one particular person.

DWIGHT HOWARD
Q: On level of frustration right now:
Dwight: We’re frustrated because we’re not winning, but it’s not the end of the world. (Kobe and I) have been the leaders and we can’t focus on the negative. We can’t sulk into the fact that we’ve been losing games. We have to find a way to overcome it. I told the guys after practice: ‘We have to stick together and still come in here every day, work hard and fight through this phase.’

Q: On rationalizing the loss because of no Steve Nash:
Dwight: I feel like we still had the opportunity to win yesterday. We just gotta put everything together. We have good strings of possessions on the court where we’re doing good, and then we have those breakdowns. We just gotta do it for 48 minutes, and we’ll come up with some wins.

Q: On when he thinks the team will be able to click:
Dwight: We’ll get it; it takes awhile. You’re talking about a team that just came together. We’re trying to figure out how to play together and how this can fit together. Once the noise is settled, we can have a clear mind. We’ll be fine, but right now, we’re just in the growing process and learning each other’s games.

PAU GASOL
Q: On where he feels the team is at now:
Gasol: Obviously, my emotional state of mind has been different, but this is a different challenge. We, as a team, have a lot of expectations and a new system that we incorporated, guys coming off injuries and guys that got injured and guys that are dealing with injuries, so we have our share of things to deal with. We are dealing with them, and at the same time, we have to deliver and we have to perform, and we want to see positive results just as much as anybody else.

Q: On where he feels his role is with the team and the adjustments he’s had to make with the new system:
Gasol: I try to facilitate things as much as I can. I try to help guys with positioning and options when we run our offense, I try to do my job defensively and communicate out there. At the same time I continue to try and stay aggressive and productive. Those are all the things that go through my mind and that’s my goal every game.

Q: On the most disappointing aspect of the way the team is losing:
Gasol: We all have high expectations for ourselves and for this team. Since things haven’t been clicking – preseason and five games into the season – we can’t get too upset or too frustrated because it could slow us down a little more. I think we’re very close to being at the place where we want to be. We just need to continue to stay together, work hard, be positive, help each other and make this work as a group. Right now, we’re trying to (be positive). We’re going through a tough stretch. We knew we were going to face some adversity. We didn’t predict it’d be early on, but at the same time, I think it’s going to help us down the road to face it now and not later. That’s something that we’re not banking on, but we have to first overcome this moment and start making things happen for ourselves right now.

MIKE BROWN
Q: On how the team feels despite the slow start:
Brown: Guys still believe. Like I said, that’s the biggest thing for us right now, especially when we’re trying to find our way. We had some good instances last night, but obviously, a couple that weren’t so good.

Q: On the importance of the next stretch of home games:
Brown: Hopefully, that’ll help as opposed to playing on the road. Again, it’s a matter of us continuing to try to take steps forward and playing the right way on both ends of the floor. I can see it – Utah hammered us on the glass in the preseason. If you look at their stats, they’ve hammered everybody on the glass so far during the regular season. That’s been one of our Achilles’ heels and we did a better job last night of keeping them off the glass than we had in the preseason. Our transition defense, again, was pretty good last night. Our half-court defense was solid, save for the fact late in the game, we didn’t come up with a few loose balls and they made us pay. But there were positives for us offensively. We had 46 free-throw attempts; I think we had more open looks from going inside out and they just didn’t go in.

Q: On what has disappointed him the most during these five games:
Brown: There are different things. Before we beat Detroit, the two biggest areas were our turnovers and our inability to stop them converting the few offensive rebounds they got into points. Against Detroit, we did a better job of cleaning those areas up. I thought last night we continued to do a better job of continuing to clean those areas up.

Q: On what he sees that keeps him from getting frustrated:
Brown: I’m frustrated. I think we all are frustrated, so don’t get me wrong there. We want to win and we want to win every time we step on the floor. But as a head coach of this team, for me to walk around and mope, is not the right thing to do. I believe in what we’re doing on both ends of the floor and I really think that we’re getting better. I’m going to point out what we’re doing wrong and I’m also going to point out what we’re doing right. I’m not going to beat them over the head with it, but I’m going to keep coaching, keep coaching, keep coaching.

Lakers – Jazz Postgame Numbers

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 95-86 loss at Utah:

5
Three pointers for Jazz sub Randy Foye, who drained four in the decisive first four minutes of the fourth quarter. L.A. over-helped on dribble penetration to leave him open for at least two of the four, which erased a Dwight Howard and-1 and Metta World Peace triple that cut Utah’s double-digit lead down to just five.

12
More points in the paint for the Jazz. Pau Gasol was particularly quiet, managing only five points on 2 of 9 shooting. On the other side of the coin for the Lakers, 12 is also the number of rebounds grabbed by sub Jordan Hill in 22 minutes, seven on the offensive end.

15
Free throws made by Bryant, eight of which came in the fourth quarter, when he scored 16 of his game-high 29 points. Kobe added five boards, four assists and three steals in 37 minutes.

19
Lakers color analyst Stu Lantz targeted 14 turnovers as a number L.A. would need to hang around for a good chance to win. Instead, they committed 19, led by Kobe Bryant’s six and Dwight Howard’s five.

“A lot of it just comes from reading each other, just getting in sync with each other,” said Bryant. “Those passes are just off timing and getting deflected. The turnovers that we are getting are turnovers from guys trying to make the right play, trying to make plays for other people. Put teammates in positions to be successful.”

30
Personal fouls committed by the Jazz, who at home have been known to play with increased physicality, sometimes fouling several times per possession. L.A. was not as physical, committing just 14 fouls, but made only 32 of 46 free throws (69.6 percent) in a game they lost by nine. Utah hit 16 of its 18 attempts at the stripe.

“I think our intensity was low, we didn’t play as hard as we should have played and they played hard,” said Howard. “That’s how they won the game.”

33.8
L.A.’s field goal percentage in what was a putrid shooting night for nearly everybody but Dwight Howard, who made 7 of his 11 attempts. Not one teammate was over 50 percent, including Bryant, who hit 7 of 17 to finish below 50 percent for the first time all season. As a team, however, L.A. still ranks fourth in field goal percentage on the young season (47 percent).

“I thought we didn’t play well offensively,” said coach Mike Brown. “I can count on both hands and both feet how many wide-open shots we had, especially from the three-point line, that you hope or think is going to go in. Every wide-open three that we missed or every time we went up to try to dunk the ball or lay it in and it got stripped or it got knocked out of our hands, it made us tighten up a little bit more. Again, we didn’t do a good job of moving on to the next play.”

LAL 86, Jazz 95: Nov. 7 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Wednesday evening road contest at Utah with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Blake, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol and Howard
Jazz: Mo Williams, G. Hayward, Marvin Williams, P. Millsap, A. Jefferson

FIRST QUARTER
6:25 A slow start from the Lakers in a place they know demands their best effort turned expectedly into a 9-2 Jazz lead, but Metta World Peace scored six straight points and Dwight Howard followed with two free throws and his second dunk to make it 17-12 for the home team. L.A. was sluggish, having not played since Sunday, a fact they’d need to flip.

0:00 Mike Brown is still tinkering with minutes for the second unit, in this case taking World Peace and Howard out early in favor of Devin Ebanks and Jordan Hill, in part so he can start MWP in the second quarter for his offense as Kobe rests. Darius Morris and Antawn Jamison soon joined their fellow subs and Gasol for the final two minutes, and allowed a 6-0 Jazz run that left a 25-17 deficit heading into the second. Little cohesion from that group didn’t help.

SECOND QUARTER
9:11 With a crew of Morris-Ebanks-MWP-Jamison-Howard on the floor, struggles continued as the Jazz built a 35-21 advantage. Howard had a poor series after getting frustrated with a no call. First, Kanter dunked on the other end as Howard complained, then Howard turned it over trying to take it to Kanter and Randy Foye hit a triple on the other end. Time out, Lakers.

2:29 Bryant showed L.A. the benefit of having a superstar on offense, accounting for seven straight points with a driving layup around Millsap in a crossmatch, a dish to Blake for a wide-open three after the double came, then two free throws after getting Foye up in the air. That cut the lead in half from 16 earlier in the period to eight at 47-39.

0:08.7 The Lakers had a chance to build some momentum, but saw World Peace force a shot and Mo Williams reach 14 points with a J on the other end, protecting a 10-point margin at the break, 51-41.

THIRD QUARTER
8:00 The Lakers couldn’t have started much worse on offense, with a turnover mixed into five straight misses and two foul shot misses (15 of 25 total, Howard 3 for 9), but Utah couldn’t capitalize at the other end, missing all but one of their seven attempts as the lead stayed at 10 when Bryant hit two free throws.

3:14 L.A. finally found a spark when MWP notched a transition steal, leading to Bryant’s pull-up J. Blake followed with an open three off good ball movement, and Jordan Hill cleaned up Bryant’s miss at the rim with his third offensive board (six in 14 minutes) to get to the line. The result: an 8-0 run, cutting the lead to five at 60-55. However, Utah grabbed some mojo back in the final minute as Ebanks had an unforced TO and L.A. lost Enes Kanter in transition for a dunk, making it 65-57 after three quarters.

FOURTH QUARTER
6:21 L.A. twice cut the lead down to five, Howard converting a tough and-1 inside, and MWP hitting a triple, but Randy Foye countered with triples for Utah both times … then he added another, his fourth in the last three minutes, to push the lead right back to 11. Back-breaking triples, indeed, but it served L.A.’s defense right for leaving someone that hot to help on dribble penetration above the free throw line from Mo Williams that wasn’t necessarily going anywhere.

2:51 Despite 9 of 10 free throws from Bryant, the Lakers still trailed by nine, having trouble getting stops throughout the quarter. We know that Howard hasn’t had his full burst, and it was most noticeable on the defensive end, with Utah dominating paint points 44-30. The Lakers simply did not play well enough to win a road game, from an energy or execution standpoint. Bryant finished with 27 points on 6 of 16 shooting, doing most of his damage with 15 of 17 foul shots, but got little help from Gasol, who was just 2 of 9 for five points with seven rebounds. Howard was 7 for 11 towards his 19 points, but no other Laker shot above 50 percent.

The final: Jazz 95, Lakers 86. Next up is Golden State on Friday for a 1-4 Lakers team in dire need of a victory.

Lakers Prep For Jazz

Like the Lakers, the Jazz have stumbled in the early part of the season, dropping their last three games – all road contests – at New Orleans, San Antonio and Memphis.

Utah, however, has historically fared better at home than on the road, and coach Mike Brown believes the Jazz are a much better team than their record indicates.

“They’re a good team,” explained Brown. “I don’t care what their record is. They play hard, they have big bodies, we always struggle against their big bodies and Utah is a tough place to play. We have to come out ready to go, or else we’re going to have a tough night.”

More than anything else, the coaching staff is stressing taking care of the ball, which in turn, will cut down on fast break points. The Lakers had just 15 miscues in their win against Detroit, but on the season, are averaging 18.5 per contest.

“Our transition defense to begin the season and in the preseason wasn’t great, but it’s gotten better,” said Brown. “What’s killing us now more than anything is not necessarily the transition buckets off our misses, but our turnovers. That’s hard for anybody when you turn the ball over (because) your floor balance isn’t there. When your floor balance isn’t there, you’re going to give up points in transition.”

Aside from cutting down on the turnovers and their opponent’s fast break points, the team is still trying to get healthy, too.

Kobe Bryant missed practice for a second straight day, but plans to suit up against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.

“Hopefully, I’ll be about 90 percent,” he said.

Kobe, who is still dealing with a strained right foot and sore right ankle, is averaging 37 minutes per game this season, a slight decrease from last year when he played 38.5 per contest.

Though not at full health yet, the 17-year veteran knows his body is able to take on an increased workload if needed.

“I’m physically able to play a big bulk of minutes,” said Kobe. “I’m in really tip-top shape so my body can handle that, but if I don’t need to play that many minutes, then all the better.”

Through four games, the Lakers co-captain is averaging 26.8 points on nearly 60 percent shooting.

Blake, Morris Stepping Up in Nash’s Absence

During the preseason, coach Mike Brown stated what he wanted from his backup point guard.

“I’m looking for a guy that’s going to come in and keep us organized and try to work the ball,” Brown explained after a practice in late October. “I’m looking for someone with energy and someone who’s going to get it right defensively, and keep us organized offensively. If you have the ability to make plays, do it without turning the ball over because you’re not going to be out there a whole lot of time.”

The second-year Lakers coach acknowledged that much, but with an injury to Steve Nash, Brown was forced to shuffle his rotation just four games into the early season, inserting Steve Blake into the starting lineup and Darius Morris as the backup.

In the team’s first win against Detroit, Blake recorded six assists and tied a career-high with five steals.

Morris also chipped in with six points and two assists off the bench, helping lead a second unit that produced 27 bench points.

Brown noted the play of both point guards stepping up in Nash’s absence.

“The two guys we’re playing right now in (Steve) Blake and (Darius) Morris – they got some of the best feet in the league at that spot, so they’re going to have to get up and work the ball,” explained Brown. “Not to get steals, but to see if we can take some time off the clock and try to disjoint our opponent just a little bit – and both guys did that perfectly (against Detroit).”

The Lakers forced the Pistons into 17 turnovers, while limiting them to just 35.4 percent shooting. Detroit’s starting backcourt of Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight also shot a combined 1 for 14.

“We just tried to pick up defensively and put pressure on the guards, and we made good reads,” said Blake. “Overall we had a good performance.”

Brown echoed similar sentiments regarding both guard’s play on the defensive end.

“I thought (Blake and Morris) were up the floor most of the night, turning the basketball and doing their jobs defensively,” he said.

The offense has looked better, too, according to Brown, even with the absence of the team’s two-time MVP point guard. The Lakers shot 50 and 51.9 percent, respectively, against the Clippers and Pistons, while also scoring a season-high 108 points, and turning the ball over just 15 times versus Detroit – a season low.

“Everyone was more patient,” explained Blake. “We executed the offense, we got the ball inside and our spacing was much better. There were a lot of times the first couple games, guys were rushing into things, which happens with a new offense. But we’ll get more comfortable and better at that.”

With Nash expected to be sidelined for at least a week, the team understands what they need from their floor generals in his absence.

“We just need our point guards to be solid, aggressive, defend and make plays for others,” explained Gasol.

As Brown sees it, both Blake and Morris are doing exactly that.

Lakers Turn the Tide

After a thorough 108-79 Lakers victory over Detroit that starkly contrasted an 0-3 start to the season, Monday afternoon’s practice was primarily about watching film of what worked so well and hammering home a few concepts.

“I thought our readiness to play on both ends of the floor was pretty good,” summarized coach Mike Brown. “The one thing that’s been plaguing us is our ability to give up second-chance points on very few offensive rebounds … I felt like we played defense the right way and for the first time, or as close to as 48 minutes as possible, we executed our offense the right way.”

His players out-boarded the Pistons 46-33, conceding 13 offensive boards in part because the Pistons struggled to hit shots (35 percent); few turned into baskets. Meanwhile, Dwight Howard turned in his best defensive effort as he continues to get into game shape.

Howard said that he’s certainly feeling stronger with each game, but he’s nowhere near peak condition. While his reaction time continues to improve on D, he hasn’t missed a beat on the other end, with a field goal percentage of 68.8 percent. The three-time Defensive POY missed only two of the 14 shots he attempted on Sunday towards a game-high 28 points, upping his season average to 23.3 per game.

“He’s not 100 percent,” added Brown. “Last night, it was the closest that I had seen him in terms of him being ready defensively. There have been some things that have happened with him involved on the defensive end of the floor, I’ve never seen it happen to him. And it’s a product of the process of him getting back from not playing in 8-9 months and coming off of back surgery. But last night, you saw some flashes of the ‘old Dwight’ on both ends of the floor, which was a good thing.”

Meanwhile, Howard’s frontcourt partner Pau Gasol was aggressive early against Detroit’s front line, the two bigs combining for 21 of the team’s first 25 points, opening a double-digit lead that would never be threatened.

“We called our bigs’ number early on, but sometimes, we didn’t run the action that we called because they took this away and that away,” Brown continued. “It was good to see us try to go through the bigs early on and everybody responding the right way with the right spacing … it was great to see us execute offensively overall.”

To Brown, it was important to secure a victory to ensure that the group continues to buy into the process.

“It was a thing to help us to continue to believe,” he explained. “As a group, our guys were pretty determined and I already told them going into this: ‘It’s not going to be easy. It’s a process.’ But we got to make sure we handle the adversity we face the right way, and it’s going to make us stronger later when we’re in a tough seven-game series and we drop two in a row.”

OFFENSE HUMMING
Most NBA teams have played only three games, but in that small sample size the Lakers are shooting an impressive 50.3 percent from the field, second only to defending champ Miami’s 51.1 percent. The purple and gold are also connecting on 40.6 percent of three-pointers, many of which have been wide open looks. Last year, the Lakers shot 45.7 percent from the field (7th) and 32.6 percent from three (26th).

The hybrid Princeton offensive sets mixed into what Brown had the Lakers doing last season is creating myriad wide open shots around the court, shown not just through Howard’s outstanding percentage inside but also Kobe Bryant’s nearly 59.7 percent shooting from all over the court.

“With what we’re doing offensively in terms of the spacing and the movement has really helped (Bryant) as well as everybody else,” said coach Mike Brown. “We don’t really know what we’re doing quite yet, to a certain degree, but if you watch us play, guys are scoring fairly easily. It hasn’t been a struggle (except) when we’re turning the ball over, and most of the turnovers that we’re making are the right play, they’re just a half a count too late.

“So now when we have two or three of those turnovers in four or five possessions, it looks like we don’t know what the heck we’re doing. But look at our statistics across the board, and that’s with 100 turnovers in four games. We’re not even giving ourselves a chance to score, and our offensive numbers are off the charts, way better than last year. If you’re watching the game, you can see that the ball movement is better, the spacing is better, guys are scoring easier, guys are playing together.”