Friday, January 10, 2014

Los Angeles Lakers look to regroup with extra practice

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The sky might seem like it's falling in Laker Land these days, but coach Mike D'Antoni still has his sense of humor intact, albeit with a sardonic edge. 

With his team about to play eight of its next nine games on the road after having already lost nine of its past 10 overall, can D'Antoni see a light at the end of the tunnel? 

"There is a light," D'Antoni said after practice Thursday. "It could be a train coming. That’s what it is, maybe." 

Rather than accept the perhaps inevitable destruction that awaits the Los Angeles Lakers' season further down the tracks, D'Antoni tried to get his team heading in a new direction with added instruction. L.A. originally planned to use Thursday as an off day coming off a set of back-to-back games on the road, but D'Antoni decided following the Lakers' 113-99 loss in Houston on Wednesday night to bring the guys into the gym the next day. 

"Normally, we would take the day off, but it’s a good time to come in and get treatment and watch film and just gather ourselves a little bit," D'Antoni said. "We don’t want to get fragmented. I don’t think we will, but that’s definitely something where we got to keep our spirits up, keep our head up and know that, ‘Hey, all we can do is the best we can do,’ and I think the guys understand that." 

They also understand that the deck is stacked against them so much at the moment -- from injuries, to a brutal January schedule, to even the overall strength of the Western Conference -- that it doesn't seem like they are supposed to have much of a chance from night to night. 

"I’ve figured it out," D'Antoni joked. "The national anthem is really jinxing us. Every time they play it, we don’t play well." 

Oh, say can you see a team in turmoil? Not so fast. 

"We have a great group of guys," Wes Johnson said. "I think everybody has a good sense of humor and everything, just trying to stay positive as much as possible because it's easy to go off the deep end." 

While the locker room might not be a lost cause, games keep being lost for recurring reasons outside of injuries. 

First of all, there's the 15.2 turnovers per game that L.A. is averaging, which puts it No. 25 out of 30 teams in the dubious category. 

"That’s probably the No. 1 factor in why we’re losing," D'Antoni said. "We’re giving up between 25-35 points every game on points off turnovers. When we get half-court defense set, we’re in the top half [of the league defensively]. We’re 30th in points in transition [allowed], we’re 30th in second-chance points. Those are two things that are killing us." 

Part of the turnovers problem has been trying to integrate Kendall Marshall into things as the new starting point guard. In Marshall's first two starts, he had 32 assists against just four turnovers. In his two starts since then, his assist-to-turnover ratio has been 14 to 12. 

"He’s a certain type of point guard that if you don’t set the pick-and-rolls right, if you don’t space the floor, if you don’t give him a chance -- because God gave him the ability to have an unbelievable vision and passing ability, but we’re closing the floor up on him and if we do that, he’s going to turn it over," said D'Antoni, who mentioned he is toying with the idea of playing Jodie Meeks even more at the point. "That’s not his fault. That’s a team fault." 

Another team fault? Flat third-quarter performances, like how the Lakers were outscored 33-15 in the third in Houston. 

"We just got to sustain the effort," Pau Gasol said. "We have to bring up a notch the concentration and really be assertive ... We got to come out sharper in the second half. It doesn't matter what we did in the first half." 

In a similar vein, the Lakers are trying to adopt the mentality that all their troubles from the first half of the season so far don't mean that they cannot begin to improve, starting Friday against the Los Angeles Clippers

"It's more than just a game, than a regular game, because they're our neighbors. They share a building," Gasol said. "They've been playing well. They have been a strong team the last two years -- stronger than us, I guess -- so it is a meaningful game, especially when we have lost a few games here and we're not in a good streak at all." 

Because if they don't turn it around against the Clippers? 

"If we turn it over, ESPN will be filled with highlights with those guys, the way they run," D'Antoni said. 

"The NBA is unrelenting. They’re coming at us. Everybody is happy we’re on fumes, but we have to find the energy and the mental awareness and let’s go get ’em. They got Chris Paul[right shoulder injury] down, so, why not? Let’s take advantage of it.
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