MEMPHIS – With little going right for the Lakers these days, they finally talked. Loudly.
The Lakers had an air-it-out meeting on Wednesday, part of the reason why their morning shootaround lasted for 72 minutes. Normally, the Lakers simply go through walk-throughs pointing out various offensive and defensive sets. Then they conclude it with light shooting. This time, the Lakers discussed what coach Mike D’Antoni characterized as “team work.”
“You never want those kind of meetings because we’re in trouble a little bit,” D’Antoni said. “It doesn’t happen when you’re 40-1. Things needed to be said and needed to happen. Now it’s up to us to make something positive out of it.”
The Lakers (17-24) will find out tonight against the Grizzlies (26-14), which rank second in total defense (89.4 points per game) and already beat the Lakers earlier this season. Memphis boasts a bruising front line in Zach Randolph, who’s second in the NBA with 26 double-doubles., and Marc Gasol The Grizzlies have prolific scorer Rudy Gay, who averages 17.5 points per game. Memphis also has defensive stalwarts in Tony Allen and Mike Conley.
The Lakers sure have their hands full if they’re going to snap their three-game losing streak and win on the road for the first time in seven games.
But back to the meeting. What was discussed?
Dwight Howard apologized for griping about his offensive opportunities and vowed he will take a larger defensive role. One observer noted Kobe Bryant and Howard ironed out their roles. D’Antoni made it clear he wants the team to focus more on the team’s defense, which ranks 26th overall, than on the offense that ranks fifth overall.
“Everything starts with the energy we put into the game,” D’Antoni said. “We had a lot of people unhappy with their roles and with the way we’re playing. That showed up on the defensive end and you’re not happy and you’re struggling to accept whatever. The NBA is hard in the sense you have to get yourself mentally ready to go to battle every night. If things aren’t right or feeling good about what’s happening, it’s hard to summon the energy up. We have to get more energy. They have to summon more energy and play with togetherness to get over the hump.”
Howard vowed he will take that responsibility.
“It starts with me,” he said. “I have to go out there and dominate defensively and make it tough for teams. I just have to get back to doing that and not worry about the offense.”
The Lakers will find out tonight, but 15-year veteran forward Antawn Jamison remains more curious how the team will respond in the long term.
“We’re probably going to play the hardest we played all season and we’re going to say, ‘I love you man!’ Jamison said, while pretending to hug a reporter. “I want to know throughout the course of what happens in a season if it sustains. That’s been our problem.”