Phil Jackson looked at reporters after practice Sunday and smiled when told of recent comments by Jerry West, who seemed to suggest age might be catching up with the Lakers, particularly on defense.
"The reason you can't play defense is because you can't," West, the Lakers legend and Hall of Famer, told a group of automotive dealers in Orange County last Thursday.
Jackson, without hesitation, agreed with West — even if the statistics suggest otherwise.
"He's right," the Lakers' coach said, still smiling. "We have to do a lot of things right to be able to play defense the way we want to. And most of it is about controlling the tempo of the game."
Maybe, West seemed to imply, the Lakers have defensive issues at times because they are "getting long in the tooth."
The Lakers do have 10 players on their roster who are 30 or older.
Again, Jackson was asked whether in fact his team's age plays a part in this.
"There's some," he said. "There's something about just speed, just outright speed. We're not the fastest team on the board here in the NBA. But we do it if we control things the right way."
Interestingly enough, the Lakers actually rank as one of the better defensive teams in the NBA. They allow 96.4 points per game, 10th best in the league.
They allow opponents to shoot 43.8% from the field, tied for third best in the NBA, and 33.9% from three-point range, fifth in the league.
They are fourth in point differential, at plus-7.04.
In the last 10 games, the Lakers have allowed 93.3 points per game, fifth best in the league, and allowed opponents to make 43.8% of their field goals, fourth best. Their point differential during that span is plus-10.3.
The role Ron Artest plays in the Lakers' defense is important.
Artest usually takes the opponent's best wing player, either the small forward or the shooting guard.
"Ron really can help us out a lot, as long as he doesn't chase the ball in the backcourt after somebody else gets the rebound and he minds his business and gets back on defense," Jackson said.
Over the first 21 days of this month, the Lakers played 12 games. They played four games in each of the last three weeks.
Now comes some down time — a lot of down time.
The Lakers, who won at Denver on Friday, play just two games in an eight-day span, both at home — Tuesday against the Utah Jazz and Friday against the Sacramento Kings.
"I don't think there is anything bad about it, regardless," Jackson said. "It's just about having the opportunity to do some things in practice that we haven't in maybe the last month. And at this time of the season you have to do some things that are different and stretch some things out that you haven't done. Physically, guys have the opportunity to get themselves ready."
Ratliff, Barnes progressing
For the first time since he had left knee surgery almost nine weeks ago, Lakers backup center Theo Ratliff practiced Sunday.
Jackson said Ratliff was able to play some full- and half-court sessions.
"He did pretty well," Jackson said.
Matt Barnes, still recovering from right knee surgery, shot some at practice Sunday.
"This was my first time touching the ball," Barnes said. "So it felt good."