It’s pretty amazing when you look at how Phil Jackson’s 15 previous teams finished the season and compare it to these Lakers. Jackson has a way of getting his teams to peak at the right time but this season’s Lakers are fading by contrast. Here’s the record of Jackson’s team in the last 10 regular-season games.
The Bulls years: 1989-90 (6-4), 1990-91 (7-3), 1991-92 (8-2), 1992-93 (7-3), 1993-94 (7-3), 1994-95 (8-2), 1995-96 (8-2), 1996-97 (6-4), 1997-98 (7-3)
The Lakers years: 1999-2000 (7-3), 2000-01 (9-1), 2001-02 (7-3), 2002-03 (8-2), 2003-04 (7-3), 2005-06 (7-3)
The 2006-07 Lakers have lost six of their last eight games and are 2-4 in what will be the last 10 games of the season. They closed 11-3 last season to get to 45-37. It’s safe to say Jackson never has had a team close a season in such uninspiring fashion.
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Talked to Sasha Vujacic coming off the court Tuesday after his strong game against Denver. Vujacic had six points and three steals in 22 minutes and played the entire fourth quarter. Here’s a mini Q-and-A of sorts.
Q: You hadn’t played in two games before last night and then you get that opportunity. Was that a big deal for you?
A: I was just waiting for my chance. Like I always say, whenever I’m out there, I’m going to give my 110 percent. Sometimes I’m going to get the shots, sometimes I’m going to have to play good defense in order for my team to get the `W.’
What my challenge was yesterday was to kind of slow down their point guards. That was what I was trying to accomplish yesterday. Of course, the most important thing for us in the next few games is we have to play good defense and just execute on offense so we can get a few wins and get the better spot in the playoffs.
Q: You had a really good playoff run last year. Do you think about that ever and do you think you have that same run in you again?
A: I knew last year that coach had huge confidence in me and I just didn’t want to let anybody down. He gave me the opportunity so I grabbed that opportunity and played at the level I know how to play. I’m not completely satisified with how I played last year because if I had played a little bit better, probably would have won.
I’m totally looking forward to the playoffs. Like I said, as long as coach has that confidence in me, I don’t want to let him down.
Q: What needs to change for you guys as a team right now?
A: Just to get a win. We just need to find a way to win. No more excuses, no nothing. We just have to play with our heart and put everything out there. We have to give the Clippers (Thursday) what they gave us a couple days ago.
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Jackson was asked if the Lakers were preparing to resort to simply outscoring teams in the playoffs, given the state of their defense. If you go back to March 1, the Lakers are giving up 108 points on average. To put that in perspective, the Memphis Grizzlies, the NBA’s worst defensive team, are giving up 106.9 points for the season.
“If you play against a team like Phoenix, everybody downplays their defense,” Jackson said. “But theyre actually a very good defensive team. . . .Theyre going to continue to score, so you really do have to outscore them. But youve got to find the defense out there anyway because theres going to be a lot of attempts.
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Kwame Brown’s answer when asked if he was going to play no matter what in the playoffs: “I’m not going to play and hurt the team and further injure myself. But if I can contribute anything and get up and down the court and sustain the pressure on the offense and defense, then I’ll play. If not, I won’t.”
Brown said his bone bruise is slow to heal because of the blood flow in the area. Jackson estimated Sunday that Brown probably would need four months of the off-season to fully recover.
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By Ross Siler
EL SEGUNDO–For the coach with the reputation as the greatest closer in basketball history, with the nine championship rings to prove it, Phil Jackson never has had a team stagger to the finish line quite like these Lakers.
Never in 15 previous seasons has Jackson coached a team that failed to win at least six of its final 10 games heading toward the playoffs. This seasons Lakers would be happy just to win a game after dropping six of their last eight.
They have fallen 1 1-2 games out of sixth place in the Western Conference standings with four games to play. It would take a spectacular collapse for the Lakers not to make the playoffs, but they have a host of issues to address before the season ends.
“This team has to learn some things still, Jackson said. “Were confident we can go in the playoffs and do some things that are good. I dont know if were going to win a playoff series right now, if I was to bet on it. But I would say that were going to play.
The Lakers have done little to improve their standing as one of the NBAs worst defensive teams (giving up 103.4 points per game) and have been a “fourth-quarter enigma, according to Jackson, unable to come through with necessary big plays.
“Thats a big part of it is that were not finding a way to win games that are there for us, Jackson said. “Thats concerning to us and disappointing, and those things all take a little bit out of you.
The Lakers have beaten only one team with a winning record since the All-Star break (at Utah on Feb. 26) and have gone just 14-25 since reaching the high-water mark of their season at 26-13 with a Jan. 17 victory at San Antonio.
Their starting point guard, Smush Parker, has been benched in the fourth quarter of three of the last four games. Their starting center, Kwame Brown, is out with an injured left ankle and could not guarantee Tuesday he would be back for the playoffs.
Their last seven wins have come with Kobe Bryant averaging 47.6 points, suggesting that the only hope in the playoffs will be a one-man scoring show. The problem? Bryant is shooting 41.7 percent (110 of 264) since his spree of 50-point games ended.
If they cant build momentum now, Jackson was asked if he thought the Lakers could do so once the playoffs started. He cited the 1977-78 Washington Bullets (with a forward named Mitch Kupchak) that finished 44-38 yet won a championship.
The Lakers will finish the regular season against the Clippers on Thursday, at Phoenix on Friday, home against Seattle on Sunday and at Sacramento on Wednesday. They would qualify for the playoffs with one win and one loss by eighth-place Golden State.
Jackson said his first priority is keeping opposing teams off the foul line. The Nuggets went 39 of 49 from the line in Mondays victory, yet another night in which the Lakers shot fewer free throws (28) than their opponents made.
Brown update: Brown is bothered by a bone bruise in his ankle and made no assurances about when he would next play. He questioned whether he could get up and down the floor and would not commit to returning for the playoffs.
“Everybody says, `They need me back, they need me back, but Im not going to play if Im going to hurt the team, Brown said. “At this point, I dont think I can do anything to contribute.
Radmanovic back: Vladimir Radmanovic played four-on-four at the end of practice – - sinking a 3-pointer, a midrange jumper and a layup – - and plans on being in uniform Thursday. Whether he will play has not been determined.
The hand injury Radmanovic suffered in October has healed and the shoulder he separated while snowboarding is getting closer to 100 percent. In the meantime, he was asked what contribution he thought he could make.
“I think the contribution I was supposed to make, what I was brought for at the beginning of the season, Radmanovic said. “Its been a rough season for me obviously and really frustrating but Ill try to put everything behind me and have this as a new start.