Tuesday, 12 April 2011

NBA AM: Lakers Searching for Answers

Posted by chardyboy on Tuesday, April 12, 2011 0 comments

source: By: Alex Kennedy

In one week, the Los Angeles Lakers went from being the hottest team in the NBA to one of the coldest. After winning seventeen of eighteen games after the All-Star break, the Lakers have now lost five straight and allowed the Dallas Mavericks to catch them in the standings.

This is the Lakers' worst losing streak since acquiring Pau Gasol in 2007 and the team is searching for answers with the playoffs right around the corner.

"The measure of success is what you've just recently accomplished," said Lakers head coach Phil Jackson. "Right now, we're back in the middle of the pack."

"I'm surprised," Jackson said of the team's struggles. "We were complacent a little bit. We got caught. I told them yesterday at practice that I didn't think we'd be able to turn it around in one game. We're only partially back to what we're trying to do."

The general consensus in the locker room is that some quality practice time will help the Lakers right the ship. Following last night's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kobe Bryant kept to himself in the training room and was steaming while talking to reporters.

"We're just playing horrible defense right now," Bryant said while shaking his head. "We're just making too many mistakes. The mistakes that we're making are correctable though and a good practice session will correct them."

"We've got to do our jobs, which we haven't been doing. We've just got to do our jobs," Bryant added.

Andrew Bynum stressed that practice will be important because the group needs to get on the same page and start producing more as a whole.

"We know we can win, we just have to practice," Bynum said. "We're not a unit right now. There's a lot of individual stuff going right for certain guys, but as a unit and collective group, we're not there."

The Lakers are currently tied with the Mavericks in the standings and the final two games will decide what the playoff picture looks like in the West. The Lakers could slide as far as the fourth seed if they lose out and the Oklahoma City Thunder win their final two games.

The Lakers will face the San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings to close the season. The Mavericks will take on the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets while the Thunder will play the Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks.

"We're at the point where we must bounce back," Pau Gasol said. "We must win these last two and there's no room for error. It is what it is. I don't think anybody is keeping their head down. We're positive and we understand what's going on, but I think we could be playing a lot better and winning."

"We've gotten to the point where every game will be like a playoff game for us," Gasol added. "That's how important these next two games are. They're must wins if we want to keep that second seed."

If the playoffs started today, the second seed would face a beat up Hornets team while the third and fourth seeds would draw the red hot Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets.

"Maybe it puts us in the situation where we have to win," Lamar Odom said. "We haven't been in one of those in a long time."

Throughout the season, the Lakers have stayed atop the standings despite stretches of complacency and what seemed like boredom with the regular season. Now, their five-game losing streak has put them in a must-win situation and the team must respond to avoid a freefall.

Thunder Feeling Confident: Around this time last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder were getting ready for their first playoff series. When the wide-eyed group eventually took the Los Angeles Lakers to six games, it was viewed as a major accomplishment because they had solidified themselves as a force to be reckoned with down the road.

However, that road may not have been as long as previously expected. After trading for Kendrick Perkins at the deadline and stringing together several wins against contending teams, including the Lakers last night, the Thunder are entering these playoffs with plenty of confidence and much higher expectations.

"We are more relaxed," Kevin Durant told Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman. "Last year, we were just like, 'Ah, we're in the playoffs. Nobody's really ever been here before with the exception of a few guys. So we're just going to go out there and play and see what happens.' But now, we know what it takes."

Not only does Oklahoma City now have playoff experience under their belt, they also have home court advantage in their first round series, which is something they didn't have as the eighth seed in the West.

"We got home court for the first round and we won the division," Durant said. "But we can't be satisfied with that. We're looking for bigger goals and hopefully we achieve them. But we're just confident knowing that we can come out here and play with anybody."

"We're all confident that we can go as far as we want to go if we stick to our concepts and we stick to playing together," he continued. "Anything can happen. Anything's possible."

The Thunder can enter the playoffs with confidence because they have passed every test thrown at them this season. They have the third-most wins against teams .500 and above, behind only the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles. They have shown up in pressure situations, winning eight overtime games this season, which is by far the most in the league. Aside from the Lakers, they have beaten fellow elite teams such as Chicago, Boston, Miami, Dallas and Orlando.

"We know that we're a good team," said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. "Last year, we were hoping to be a good team. Going into the playoffs, we know that we can win. We know that we can compete at a high level."

"It always helps to have your first taste of the playoffs because now we don't have to worry about the first playoff experience," he continued. "We've done that. We know how it feels. We know the excitement we have going into our home crowd. That was overwhelming. Games 3 and 4, you can't prepare for that. You can't simulate that in practice or the regular season. Our fans were just off the charts. Our players experienced it and now they want that again. They can't wait for that opportunity."

Because the Thunder are relaxed and confident, they'll be able to make the most of their opportunity.

Portland Eyeing Earl Barron: When the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to extend Earl Barron's second 10-day contract, the Portland Trail Blazers were one of the first teams to reach out to the center. The Blazers were looking to bolster their frontcourt for a playoff push and felt that the seven-footer was the perfect man for the job.

With Marcus Camby injuring his neck last week, Portland's frontcourt is as thin as ever so the Blazers have decided to bring in Barron for a workout, according to league sources. The free agent arrived in Portland last night and is expected to be evaluated today. In November, Barron went through a similar workout with the Blazers, but the team ultimately decided to sign Sean Marks.

If Portland decides to sign Barron, he will be eligible to play in the postseason because he was on playing successive 10-day contracts in Milwaukee. He also had a 12 game stint with the Phoenix Suns.

This season, Barron has averaged 3.8 points and 3.3 rebounds, but he has been productive when given minutes. Last season, the center averaged 11.7 points and 11.0 rebounds after being inserted into the New York Knicks' starting lineup late in the season.


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