In the postgame presser after L.A.’s narrow loss to Houston — in which they led by double digits until early in the fourth quarter — Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni addressed the issues of late defensive breakdowns, explained why he won’t sit Dwight Howard when opponents intentionally foul him late and more.
We’ll get to that in a moment, but first a thought after speaking with several players in the postgame locker room: the collective feeling is that the primary issue, the No. 1 thing that’s made winning games more difficult for a talented roster, is that the players haven’t played together enough to develop full trust. That has reared its ugly head on both ends of the floor, especially late in games.
Think about the crunch time five on the floor to close against Houston: Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace from last season’s roster … then newcomers Dwight Howard and Chris Duhon from Orlando, and Antawn Jamison from Cleveland. The kind of trust needed for defensive rotations and ball movement has yet to be developed. Early this season, Bryant had been running late screen/rolls to positive results with Pau Gasol, but he was out with knee tendinitis, so Kobe ended up primarily trying to do things himself in the final moments, resulting in one missed pull-up J, a made three and a missed three. And he was among the wings/guards missing rotations when Howard came over to help.
Meanwhile, perhaps the best guy in the NBA at fostering such an environment of trust on the floor for his teammates, Steve Nash, has been watching in street clothes.
That’s the reason why the locker room remain optimistic, if frustrated, moving forward. It’s not to excuse a loss that the Lakers feel definitely “should” have been a win without late breakdowns, but it is a palatable explanation. It’s not like the Rockets have been together long – again a reason not to excuse the loss – but teams like OKC, San Antonio and Memphis certainly have. Nonetheless, once that trust has been built and developed, L.A. thinks it will be just fine. D’Antoni offered more thoughts on the topic amidst his postgame Q&A session, so let’s get to that:
Q: On late defensive breakdowns, and why he’s optimistic things will ultimately be different:
D’Antoni: Weird stuff was happening, and we didn’t tighten up our defense to where we had guys that didn’t switch, should have switched, didn’t do this, didn’t do that, and you lose. (We had) way too many turnovers and unforced errors, but we have some stuff to do. We’re close. I really believe we’re closer than most people would say, but we have some tightening up to do and we’ll see if we can get it done in New Orleans.
Q: On whether why he didn’t and won’t sit Howard, who hit 5 of the 10 free throws he was awarded when Houston intentionally fouled him every trip up the floor starting at the 3:18 mark and lasting through 2:09.
D’Antoni: You don’t do that to a guy, and he made his foul shots. He’s not the reason that our defense breaks down, he’s not the reason that stuff happens. He’s gotta work through this. You take him out now, and what are you going to do, take him out all the time? You have a player that’s going to be your franchise player and you don’t do that to him. It’s not him that’s causing the problem. It’s not a good thing, a knee-jerk kind of reaction … he’s fine. That’s not a problem. He made the last 4 out 6, and you have to go up and knock them down, and he will. We shouldn’t even be talking about that, because it shouldn’t come down to that. We shouldn’t have had 19 turnovers, and we shouldn’t lose our guys on a switch or on the perimeter. That’s not him; he’s doing a hell of a job, and he will continue to do that, and we’ll work through this.
Q: On Kobe Bryant’s game (39 points on 14 of 31 FG’s, 9 of 12 FT’s, with two assists and three turnovers):
D’Antoni: Up and down. We’re a team, and defensively we had some breakdowns that were not good, we had forced shots and turnovers – not good.
Q: On if L.A. can become a good road team:
D’Antoni: Oh yeah. First of all we have to be a good home team, and we’re not there either. It doesn’t matter where we’re playing the game right now. We’re doing things that are going to get us there. I’m very confident we’re going to have some breakout games, the ball will move and we’ll do a better job.
Q: On the last four minutes:
D’Antoni: It was a little bit like against Orlando, we had some breakdowns defensively, and we can’t do that. We took some plays off, and it’s a little bit of, ‘Oh our record is what it is and we can’t make a mistake,’ so we have to get over the hump, get some wins under our belt and things will go a lot smoother. I feel that we’re getting closer and are going to be really good. A lot of this stuff is going to go away pretty soon and we’ll get some wins.
Q: On Chris Duhon’s floor game in his first start:
D’Antoni: I thought he was great, I thought he played well. We need that. He’ll even do better as it goes on, get his legs and everything. But like I said, we’re close. We just need to get some wins, get settled, make sure we don’t blame the right things.