So much for all that talk of the Lakers fielding a team that will try to their offset their depleting talent with hard work and energy.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni offered one damning allegation as to why the the Lakers (3-4) enter tonight’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves (4-2) at Staples Center completing a 1-2 trip and suffering double-digit losses thus far to the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans.
“We have to get mentally tougher. I don’t think we’re mentally tough right now for whatever reason,” D’Antoni said. “If we do better then, then our performance will get better.”
D’Antoni wasn’t finished, offering almost every litany of the game that epitomizes how the Lakers lack the mental toughness he believes has played a large part in the team’s losses.
“Getting back on defense starts it. Your transition defense starts it,” D’Antoni said. “Your half-court offense and defense, defensive rebounding, mental toughness to move the ball and not take a quick shot. Coming to the gym ready to play. Getting on the early bus, not the late bus. What else is there? Come down to shootaround really focused. It’s everything. Everything you do in life. If you want to be successful and be the best, then you better be mentally tough. If you’re tired, guess what? Who cares. You just have to play through it.”
The Lakers hardly have excelled in the areas D’Antoni outlined.
The Lakers rank 26th out of 30 NBA teams in total defense (105.57 points per game), 20th in opponent field-goal percentage (46 percent), 23rd in opponent three-point field-goal percentage (39 percent) and 25th in opponent fast-break points (18.3 points). The Lakers have become two different teams with their outside shooting in three wins (43.8 percent) and four losses (35.8 percent).
How does D’Antoni ensure more consistency in those areas?
“Just keep telling them and give them a shot of mental toughness,” D’Antoni quipped. “There’s no secret formula. We just have to talk about it and do it. If they want to have a special season, then they have to do it.”
It appears the Lakers have taken some steps.
For one, the Lakers had the day off Saturday, allowing the team to recuperate from their back-to-back games in a 1-1 stretch Gasol suggested the team “ran out of gas.” After their 99-98 win Thursday over the Houston Rockets, the Lakers landed in New Orleans Friday at 3 a.m. They then suffered a 96-85 loss later that night to the Pelicans.
After participating in the Lakers’ morning shootaround Sunday at Staples Center in front of select season ticket holders, Gasol spent some extra time in the weight room. He hoped that approach and more aggressiveness inside will help him improve his 12.5 points per game average on 36.8. percent shooting.
“You just try to focus harder, prepare mentally and physically,” Gasol said. “Maybe do a little extra. I got a little work out in the weight room. I’m going to do some extra shooting today. Just shake it off. Today is a new day, a new game and I want to play better. I want to play well for my team.”
Meanwhile, D’Antoni will go with a starting lineup that he plans to keep for the foreseeable future, including Steve Nash (point guard), Steve Blake (shooting guard), Nick Young (small forward) Chris Kaman (power forward) and Gasol (center). With exception to Nash sitting against New Orleans as part of the Lakers’ season-long strategy to preserve him on the second night of back-to-backs, the Lakers’ starting lineup will have played three consecutive games together.
D’Antoni plans to keep the lineup in hopes of improving the discrepancy between the Lakers’ starters and bench. The Lakers’ starting lineup has ranked last out of 30 NBA teams in several categories, including ppoints (45.4), efficiency (45.6) and minutes (23.3). Meanwhile, the Lakers’ reserves lead in the league in those areas in points (52.9), efficiency (58.1) and minutes (24.7).
“We’ve definitely been very inconsistent for the most part,” Gasol said. “We have to find that consistency. I think that’s hopefully going to come with more games. We can’t make a habit out of it, out of, ‘We’re going to be up some and then they’re going to make a run and we’re going to be fighting for our lives.’ So, hopefully we’ll find that mental toughness consistently and be focused for 48 minutes, don’t have those letdowns and just figure it out a little better.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org