Lakers on pace to have worse record than last year’s team

Head coach Byron Scott of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on from the bench during the first half against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on December 3, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Head coach Byron Scott of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on from the bench during the first half against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on December 3, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Byron Scott accepted his dream as the Lakers’ head coach remaining adamant about a few things.

He would talk about his hope to bring the Lakers back to championship prosperity. Scott would devote plenty of his practice time and film sessions specifically to defense. He would institute a culture based on hard-nosed play and strict accountability.

But as the Lakers begin the year 2015, they are hardly on pace to match Scott’s “New Year’s resolutions.” The Lakers enter Friday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies (23-8) at Staples Center with a 10-22 record, a slight decrease from the 13-19 mark the Lakers had last season through New Year’s Day. The Lakers eventually ended up with a 27-55 record, their worst mark in L.A. franchise history. The Lakers were awarded the seventh overall draft pick, which they used to select Kentucky forward Julius Randle before suffering a season-ending injury to his right leg in the season opener. The Lakers would have to trade their first round pick to the Phoenix Suns as part of the Steve Nash trade in 2012 if they land out of the top five.

Yet, Scott stressed that wins and losses are hardly created equal.

“I thought coming in here, there was no pressure to be better than the previous team or what they did last year,” Scott said. “The biggest thing from day one to the end of the season, you show steady improvement. Then you go in the right direction. That’s what I’m trying to do with this team that we have and I think we’re going in that right direction. I don’t look the record last year at that particular time,. I don’t put that pressure on myself. I put other pressure on myself. But that’s something I can’t control on what they did last year and saying you guys should be better. There’s a lot of things that changed since last year as well.”

There sure is, and it goes beyond the obvious coaching change from Mike D’Antoni’s resignation to Scott’s eventual hire.

This year’s Lakers may field a relatively healthy Kobe Bryant, who has averaged 24.1 points albeit on a career-low 37.5 percent shooting. Last season, Bryant played only six games because of injuries to his left Achilles tendon and left knee. But both Lakers teams experienced the injury bug seemingly everywhere.

Last season, the Lakers missed a combined 319 games due to various ailments, most notably to Bryant and Steve Nash combining for only 21 games played. This season, the Lakers suffered season-ending injuries to Nash (back), rookie forward Julius Randle (right leg) and reserve swingman Xavier Henry (left Achilles tendon). Lakers forward Ryan Kelly will play in tonight’s game against Memphis after appearing in only three games this season amid overlapping injuries to his left and right hamstrings.

Meanwhile, the Lakers’ personnel looks different. The Lakers sorely missed Bryant’s presence last season. But they also had a stronger post presence (Pau Gasol), more consistent point guard play (Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar) and outside shooting (Jodie Meeks). Although the Lakers retained Nick Young, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Robert Sacre, Henry and Kelly, the team also boasts new faces in Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis. The Lakers also run a Princeton-based offense as opposed to D’Antoni’s faster-paced offense that put a high premium on outside shooting, something that created divisions among the team’s frontcourt players and guards.

“It’s a completely different new roster and new year,” Kelly said. “It’s hard to compare the two.”

Both Lakers teams have one thing in common, though.

They rank among the league’s worst in defense. Last season, the Lakers finished 29th out of 30 NBA teams in points allowed (109.2), 24th in defensive field goal percentage (46.8) and 30th in fast-break points allowed (16.7). This season, the Lakers are currently 30th in points allowed (109), 29th in defensive field goal percentage (47.7) and 29th in fast-break points allowed (15.6).

Incidentally, Scott pointed at the team’s defense as one of the recent marks of improvement. Through 14 games in November, the Lakers allowed an average of 111.36 points per game. Through 15 games in December, the Lakers’ defensive numbers have slightly dropped toward giving up an average of 105.6 points per game. The Lakers also have improved defensively since Ronnie Price and Ed Davis have started the past 12 games over Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer.

“Defensively, we’re getting better and better. I thought we had a gem of a game against Denver until the fourth quarter,” Scott said, referring the Lakers’ win on Tuesday against the Nuggets where they allowed 32 fourth-quarter points. “Then we tend to relax. I don’t know if you can develop a killer instinct. You either got it or you don’t. But I was always on teams when we had you down by 20, it would be 40. Our team now, we have so many new guys, that if we have a team down by 20, we tend to relax. We let teams get back into the game. Hopefully that’s the last time we do that.”

But with the Lakers fielding so many moving parts with players on one-year contracts and a new coaching staff, that could become easier said than done.

“There’s going to be transition,” Kelly said. “There’s going to be a different style of play and whole new system and different players to figure each other out. Not to mention our schedule has been as tough, if not the toughest on any team. We’re going to continue to figure things out. It’s getting better. Our defense is getting better slowly but surely. You’d like to make leaps, but it doesn’t always work that way. We’ll keep working.”


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