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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Lakers don't play same old defense

Jerry West's comments appear to have fired them up against Jazz, but Phil Jackson agrees with Mr. Clutch.

January 25, 2011|Mark Heisler
  • Lakers guard Kobe Bryant celebrates a dunk by Lamar Odom during the Lakers' 120-91 victory over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant celebrates a dunk by Lamar Odom during the Lakers'… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Mr. Clutch comes through for the Lakers again!

Yes, it was Jerry West, Mr. Laker, himself, pointing out the Lakers don't defend because they can't.

Now that everyone is agreed on that point

Coach Phil Jackson said, "He's right," adding his players actually can defend if they "do a lot of things right."

Right, like trying.

Lakers players didn't take West's comments as a compliment, although as Kobe Bryant noted, "The intensity, we could definitely ratchet it up and we have."

Because it's hard to defend with intensity that needs ratcheting up, we'll call that another tacit admission West had a point.

Nevertheless, rising up in righteous indignation, the Lakers showed they're not done yet, running up a 38-point lead and ratcheting the Utah Jazz, 120-91.

"The Lakers are a terrific defensive team," Utah Coach Jerry Sloan said. "They have been the last two-three years.

"When they break down your offense — which they broke us down — you wind up taking desperation shots. And when you're desperate, it's hard to make them."

In other words, where was West a month ago, when they needed him?

Perhaps to avoid panic in the streets, West made his comments in a low-key setting, in a speech before the Orange County Automobile Dealers Assn.

Included were more truth-hurts observations, such as:

"I don't think the Lakers will be good for much longer. You can keep a car running for a long time by changing the tires, et cetera. You can't change a player's tires."

On the other hand, Jackson can take a team a long way on one set of tires.

This Lakers team has only one rotation player — Derek Fisher, 35 — who's older than 32.

Jackson won his last three titles in Chicago in 1996-1998, starting Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper and Scottie Pippen, who were 34-36-34-32 by the end of the run.

As far as Sloan is concerned, teams are like wine that improves with age.

After years of butting their heads against Lakers greatness, Sloan and the Jazz broke through in 1997 and 1998, eliminating them two springs running.

John Stockton was 35 in 1998, and Karl Malone and Jeff Hornacek were 34.

Those were the Lakers with Shaquille O'Neal, 25, and Bryant, 19.

Even after the Jazz upended them, 4-1, in the second round in 1997, the young Lakers didn't think it could happen again when they met in the 1998 West finals.

That time, the Jazz swept them, 4-0.

The Lakers' Nick Van Exel said it was like "project guys going against guys who set the pick-and-rolls, who do the little things while the project guys want to do the fancy, behind-the-back dribbles and do the spectacular things.

"Maybe it's the age. We feel as if we can just go out there and lace up the shoes and run around and do the dunks and do all the little things we can. But it's not like that."

That was so long ago, it's almost as if it happened in a galaxy far, far away.

Older, wiser but hardly more energetic, the Lakers started 13-2, then split the next 16 with one-sided losses to the Heat on Christmas and the Spurs in San Antonio three days later.

Even going 10-2 since, the losses were memorable — to the Clippers who knocked them over like tenpins as they came from behind at the end, and the Mavericks who erased an early 10-point deficit and romped past them in Dallas.

The Lakers have played only three games against the top teams, Boston, Miami, San Antonio and Dallas, going 0-3.

Happily for the Lakers, another opportunity looms, with the Celtics on their way West to play here Sunday.

Maybe West could give another speech between now and then.

San Fernando Valley dealers? Inland Empire? Anyone?

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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