After Tuesday’s 103-99 loss against the Sixers, coach Mike D’Antoni acknowledged he was “surprised” at how his team played considering the Lakers had three days off before the game on New Year’s night.
“We had two great practices before the Philadelphia game, but I thought our legs were a little limp,” D’Antoni said. “Maybe we worked too hard in those two days.”
Making perhaps a greater impact than the level of intensity on Tuesday was the simple fact that L.A. struggled to make shots. While the Sixers converted their first five shots of the game, jumping out to an early 11-point lead, the Lakers shot only 39 percent in the game, and made just 3 of 22 three-pointers (13.6 percent).
D’Antoni acknowledged that his team may have been a bit out of rhythm.
As such, in advance of Friday’s game against the Clippers, the Lakers went a 5-on-5 full-contact scrimmage during practice, and the coaching staff was pleased with the team’s focus.
“It was great,” he said. “You don’t want to go too long. You want to be prepared, but not overtired. I thought we hit a good note today.”
Before the loss against Philly, the Lakers had won six of seven games, and the team was starting to feel like it had turned a corner, particularly since Steve Nash returned against Golden State (Dec. 22). Meanwhile, the Clippers became the third team in NBA history to complete an undefeated month – 16-0 in December. Yet they come into Friday’s contest on a two-game skid, with consecutive losses at Denver and at Golden State.
Despite this, the players know the importance of such a game, and noted a key in slowing down the Clippers, a team that leads the league in fast break points and forced turnovers. One of the primary reasons the Clippers are at the top of the league in those categories is the play of Chris Paul on both ends, who ranks second in the league in assists at 9.2 per game and first in steals at 2.7.
“We have to be smart,” Nash said. “We have to use our head(s), we have to play together and we have to find a way to negate that athleticism with our experience.”
D’Antoni acknowledged the importance of forcing a team that likes to get out in into half-court situations, and ideally into taking jump shots.
“That’s what we’re going to have to try to do,” he explained. “As a team, we just have to get better getting back and closing up the paint.”
Now with the next five games against teams ahead of them in the standings, the players understand the significance of each one, and also maintain there is no reason for worry.
“Everybody has a great attitude, everyone comes into practice and enjoys being around each other, works together and everyone puts in an honest effort at practice,” Nash said. “We still have a chance to be a good team because of that.”