So much for the Lakers becoming another version of Showtime.
The Lakers rarely met Mike D’Antoni’s initial expectation that they’d average 110-115 points a game namely because they had too many overlapping injuries to count and a veteran-laden roster that doesn’t have the quickness to meet such demands. But as they prepare for Game 2 of their first-round series Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers have morphed into the identity that former coach Mike Brown once preached.
They’ve become a methodical, grind-it-out team intent on winning ugly. The Lakers have plenty of changes to make, including how to handle San Antonio’s double-teams in the post, improving their Game 1 shooting accuracy (41.1 percent) and ensuring better health for Steve Nash (right hamstring). But the Lakers still sounded in high spirits, mainly because of their recently strong defense. They held the Spurs in Game 1 to a 37.6 percent clip, marking the third consecutive game the Lakers held opponents to under 40 percent shooting.
“If we’re as active as we were defensively, I’m confident we can beat this team,” Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. “We’ll take that every game of the series.”
The Lakers usually lacked such discipline.
They finished the regular season ranked 21st in total defense (101 points per game). Lakers center Dwight Howard routinely lamented how the team remained undisciplined. The Lakers considered far too many points on fast-breaks (15.9; ranked 29th), opponent shooting percentage (45.3 percent, 15th overall) and opponent three-point field goal percentage (35.7 percent, ranked 14th).
“Communication has been great,” Lakers center Dwight Howard said. “Guys know where they need to be on the rotations and we’re just playing hard. We have to keep it up.”
The Lakers still have some work to do, though.
They allowed Manu Ginobili to score 18 points in Game 1 off a 3 of 5 clip from three-point range. San Antonio also converted on 17 fast-break points. But with the Lakers shore up enough of their offense, the team’s defensive principles seem sounds.
The Lakers outrebounded the Spurs, 44-43. They recorded eight steals and four blocks. Even though the Lakers’ 18 turnovers partly reflected San Antonio’s 12 steals, they didn’t exactly cash in on transition like other teams could.
“That’s been our Achilles heel for most of the season with the turnovers,” Gasol said. “San Antonio doesn’t have a super quick team where they would make you pay every time on a fast break like Oklahoma City, Denver, or Golden State. Those teams, if you turn the ball over, they’re gone. Boom! It’s a layup and it’s too late. But still, 18 turnovers are a lot of turnovers. When you do that to the opponent, you’re kicking yourself in the nuts.”
Regardless, the Lakers have a better mindset. And it could prove the difference in stealing Game 2 and possibly winning the first-round series.
“The defense is always a plus when you can get some stops Guys have been focused on getting stops and doing it together. Guys give a lot of effort,” Lakers forward Metta World Peace. “You go out there and play basketball. You just don’t let the possessions get to you. You’re not thinking. You just go out there and play.”
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