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Debut with Lakers is not exactly what Joe Smith envisioned

Smith plays for the first time since joining the Lakers in mid-December, but it's in a mop-up role with the team getting blown out by the Grizzlies.

January 03, 2011|By Kevin Baxter

Joe Smith, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1995, is in his 16th season in the NBA, has made the playoffs nine times and once averaged nearly 19 points a game.

But when he came off the bench for the Lakers late in Sunday's embarrassing 104-85 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, he was carrying a white flag.

That's not exactly how he envisioned his Lakers debut.

"It's just a tough situation for anybody because you know that, pretty much, they're throwing in the towel at that point," said Smith, who played the final 4 minutes 36 seconds Sunday, blocking a shot and getting called for a foul.

"The game is out of hand and you're trying to make sure your valuable players don't get injured and stuff like that."

It's called garbage time. And it's a new concept for Smith, who came to the Lakers in the mid-December deal that sent Sasha Vujacic to the New Jersey Nets. But until he learns Coach Phil Jackson's complex offense, a late-game mop-up role probably is the best that he can hope for — or not hope for, depending on your point of view.

Because when Smith gets in a game these days, that pretty much means the game is over.

"We've lost some games at home that are laughers for opponents coming in on our home court and that's a concern, so much so that I substituted in guys off the bench … because we don't even have a chance to come back and win," said Jackson, who pulled Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol in favor of Luke Walton, Smith and Derrick Caracter with the Lakers down by 21. "So that's a concern right there, that we're taken out of ballgames before the games are over."

A concern as well as a trend. The Lakers have lost four of their last six games, each by at least 15 points. Sunday, they led for just 5:48 of the first quarter and were down by 26 points in the second half. Bryant tried valiantly to wake his sleepwalking teammates in the third quarter, when he scored 17 of his game-high 28 points. But after pulling the Lakers to within a basket three times, he and his teammates watched the Grizzlies rebuild their lead to 17 points by the end of the quarter — a development that Lakers fans greeted with boos.

"We deserved it," Lakers center Andrew Bynum said. "I would have booed us too."

Most of those fans had left by the time Smith entered the game, so they never got a chance to see what the former college player of the year has to offer his new team. Which is just as well since Smith says his real contributions these days are coming in practice, where Jackson will have to remedy the Lakers' troubles.

"It's a matter of focus," Jackson said.

"That was a poor performance, offensively and defensively. In just about every category, we got outplayed."

But Smith won't get outplayed Monday. Sure it's just a workout, with the only ones watching coaches and teammates. But that beats carrying a white flag before a sellout crowd in a blowout loss. And who knows, it just might make a difference.

"I've been around. I've been in a lot of situations, winning and losing," Smith said quietly while buttoning his shirt in the quiet Lakers dressing room. "Practice is always key as far as trying to get out of a rut.

"I'll do whatever I can. I've been practicing as hard as I can every day since I've been here. Hopefully they see a 16-year vet out there doing that, everybody else will pick it up."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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