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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

At 30-6, Lakers don't act worried

Lakers' defensive plan is to outscore the opponents

January 12, 2009|MARK HEISLER | ON THE NBA

Hello, doldrums, their old friend.

Once again, the Lakers found themselves in another close encounter with another team far below them in the standings and once again they escaped.

Sunday's 108-105 victory over Miami makes 36 encounters and 30 escapes, so the Lakers' official position is still, "What's the problem?"

First of all, it looks so casual.

Second, Lakers fans are going into Taco Deficit.

They used to get free tacos when their team held the opposition under 100 points but that has only happened once since the Christmas game against the Boston Celtics, more than two weeks ago.

There's no truth to the rumor that Taco Bell has asked to move the magic number up to 105, in order to get back into game stories.

If the Lakers have a problem, it's on defense, although Coach Phil Jackson insists it's not a problem. According to Jackson, they give up a lot of points, they score more, so what's the problem?

As he put it early December in Philadelphia, when the 76ers became the latest team to wipe out a large deficit before the Lakers eked out the win, "I guess we are what we are, a good offensive team."

The Lakers have a new defensive scheme they haven't mastered, possibly because they don't put a lot of effort into it, unless they feel challenged and, you could check the standings, it takes a lot to challenge them.

They pulled out of their funk in December, eyeing the Celtics' arrival. Since the Christmas game, they've given up 106 points a game; of course, they've also gone 6-1.

Sunday night, their best defender, Kobe Bryant, went on a seek-and-destroy mission against Miami's Dwyane Wade, one of the few players in the world who could stand up to it.

Wade wound up with 27 points, two under his average, (22 when Bryant was on the floor) and an ice bag on his head, where he and Bryant butted heads late in the game.

"That's what it's all about," said Wade. "Kobe got up for the challenge and I did, as well. Overall, it was just what you play for.

"You play for those matchups and it was in the context of team basketball. He was trying to deny me all over the court. To me, it was fun trying to figure out how to get open."

Bryant played the same way for the U.S. Olympic team last summer, galvanizing a team that hadn't been much on defense in the 2006 World Championships, which he missed.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, this isn't Beijing and they aren't the U.S. team.

The other Olympians were superstars, who could all defend, give or take a Carmelo Anthony or two, even if they never had, like LeBron James, who hasn't stopped since then.

Also, the U.S. team was committed to defense, with Coach Mike Krzyzewski bearing down at all times, getting them ready for a two-week season.

"It's similar," said Bryant. "I mean, it depends on matchups. obviously. We have a system in place where we all support each other so being like a lockdown [defender], that rarely happens any more.

"Tonight was a special case because we had to do something about him [Wade]."

Actually, they're supposed to support each other but every time Wade ran Bryant into a screen, Wade came out open on the other side, which is why Bryant never had a chance to lock him down.

Bryant wound up with the win and a four-stitch cut over his right eye after his encounter with Wade.

That was on the play in the closing seconds, with the Lakers up, 104-102, when the ball rolled to Miami's Chris Quinn, a 42% three-point shooter, wide open in the corner, who then missed.

The Cleveland Cavaliers now have the league's best point differential, 12.4 points, with the Lakers at a respectable 9.1.

Of course, since Dec. 1, the Lakers' margin is only 5.6, less than half of Cleveland's.

Nevertheless, in Phil I trust. If I don't know what he's doing, he always does. I saw him let Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant work it out over a full season, even if Kobe's agent had to take him over to Jerry West's house for dinner and advice.

This? This is nothing.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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