The volume in Jordan Hill’s voice grew. The pauses between sighs prolonged.
After providing endless energy on hustle plays as both a Lakers reserve and starter, Hill appeared visibly frustrated that hasn’t spilled toward his teammates on defense.
“We rely on our offense instead of our defense,” Hill said. “When an opponent scores, we feel like we have to come down and get a score. But if we defend and stop our opponent from scoring, our offense will become easier.”
That hasn’t happened all season.
The Lakers rank 29th out of 30 NBA teams in both total defense (103.48 points per game) and fast-break points allowed (17.7). Attention fantasy basketball owners: opponents are destined to notch career-highs against the Lakers defense.
Among the candidates: Toronto forward Amir Johnson (32 points), New Orlean’s Anthony Davis (32), Washington’s Nene (30) and Denver’s Timofey Mozgov (23). When they play Friday in Oklahoma City (16-4), the Lakers (10-11) will face the NBA’s leading scorer in Kevin Durant (29 points per game) and a speedy point guard in Russell Westbrook.
Plenty of the blame falls on Pau Gasol, whose mild sprain in his right ankle has partly contributed to poor foot speed.
“It starts from an individual but the team defense has to be able to cover up certain individual mistakes or breakdowns,” Gasol said. “That’s when the team defense and the scrambling out there, hustling comes into play.”
But the problems go beyond Gasol.
In the Lakers’ 114-108 loss Tuesday to the Phoenix Suns, coach Mike D’Antoni featured Shawne Williams and Jodie Meeks in the starting lineup in hopes of adding speed and three-point shooting around Kobe Bryant. Though D’Antoni made the move to accommodate Bryant’s rustiness, the switch left solid defenders Robert Sacre and Wesley Johnson to the bench. Incidentally, Phoenix scored 56 points in the paint and outrebounded the Lakers, 43-33.
“We’re going to have to man up a little bit more,” D’Antoni said. “We’re going to have to toughen up. It’s going to have to be a dog fight for a while.”
“We have to be more aggressive, talk more and contain our guy more,” Hill said. “We have to go out there and play hard nosed defense. We’re going to score at will. Nobody is going to stop us from scoring. But we put too much pressure on our offense. We have to focus on our defense more and go out and contain our man.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org