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Magic Johnson doesn't want to feel agony of defeat again

The former Lakers great experienced the pain of last year's Finals loss to Boston along with the team's fans. To avoid a repeat this spring, he says, the team must dedicate itself to defense.

March 18, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

That six-game loss to the Boston Celtics in last season's NBA Finals? Magic Johnson felt it too.

A member of five championship teams while running the point for the Lakers in the 1980s, Johnson hopes last season's June gloom will be a rallying cry as the playoffs draw ever closer.

In an interview Tuesday with The Times, Johnson also weighed in on the Andrew Bynum injury situation and picked out two things the Lakers need to do to become champions this season.

Johnson has been known to criticize the Lakers despite owning almost 5% of the team. Before Tuesday's loss to Philadelphia, he said, "I love what I see," but also highlighted some areas to improve.

"If we can always go back to the goal and go back to the feeling we had when Boston beat us, we'll stay on track," he said. "I know Phil [Jackson] had talked about closing people out. We've got to do that. We've got to stay on that mind-set."

Jackson acknowledged being worried about an apparent decrease in "killer instinct," saying Sunday the Lakers weren't as sharp at finishing off opponents after getting large leads.

Said Johnson: "We can't think we're home free because we've got the best record in the West. We've got to go after the best overall record."

Johnson wasn't sure the Lakers would keep winning when Bynum went down because of a torn ligament in his right knee Jan. 31. But he changed his mind after seeing them succeed without Bynum in Boston, Cleveland, Houston and San Antonio, among other cities.

"I thought it was going to be harder without Andrew, but we can still win it all without him," he said. "He can take his time [recuperating]. The main thing is to get all the way healthy, not come back and be 70% or 60%.

"But remember, his role will change. It's nothing personal, but he's not going to have enough time to get fully back to being Bynum. We just need him as a big body against the big teams. And he can do that. For that short stretch, his role's got to change and then next year he'll be back to his role."

Bynum is expected to return sometime next month.

Until then, Johnson had two suggestions for the Lakers -- play strong defense and get better production from the recently sagging second unit.

"The defense looks a lot better," Johnson said. "The rotations are good. They know what they want to do. They can win it all if they make sure that they continue to rely on their defense. We've got offense. We've got players that can score. Now we've got to focus in on defense."

He also looked at the recent issues of the reserves, who had become too stagnant after being a source of strength most of the season.

"That second unit can't rely just on jump shots," he said. "They've been doing that. That concerns me. We're not getting the free throws we need.

"Our second team is good when they have the combination of going to the basket and shooting the jump shots. When you drive, that creates open shots. We're just passing it around the perimeter. We've got to attack. We've got to get back to driving that ball to the basket."

Pau's pinkie

Lakers forward/center Pau Gasol had X-rays taken of his right pinkie after he was slapped on the finger in the first quarter of Tuesday's game. X-rays were negative and Gasol, who continued to play, is considered day to day.


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