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T.J. SIMERS: Mike Brown says Lakers are exciting enough when they win

Grind-it-out style might not compare to the high-flying Clippers, but wait until the playoffs, the Lakers' first-year coach says.

February 19, 2012|T.J. Simers

I had to write a Lakers column, so I went to the Clippers' game Saturday to at least have some fun while scribbling.

It seems to be pretty well established now that the Lakers are a bore ... and there goes Blake Griffin with back-to-back dunks.

Staples Center seems to be shaking. What a game!

Sorry, back to the ho-hum Lakers, where Mike Brown is now Ben Howland. No question both are very good coaches. Everything begins with defense, and now I lay me down to sleep.

Los Angeles is the entertainment capital — the Academy Awards, Showtime — so how are Lakers fans going to take to this grind-it-out basketball, with victory predicated on last-minute stops rather than highlight shots?

"It's not something we're used to," admits Jim Buss, Jerry's son and part of the trio that hired Howland, er, Brown to coach the Lakers. "But if the team wins, I think it will become enjoyable; if it loses …"

In Lakers' parlance, losing is not winning the championship, so the message around here is just wait until the playoffs, and try not to nod off.

"Phoenix, Sacramento and Dallas back in the day were entertaining," Brown says. "But what happened when it came to a seven-game series? Seven-game series aren't always going to provide entertaining basketball. Sometimes you're going to have to buckle it up and get after it.

"I'd rather be prepared for that than be entertaining now in the regular season."

Right now the only thrilling thing that can be said about the Lakers is the danger of thinking they can win a championship without any sort of home-court advantage.

"I think we're going to be a tough out in the playoffs because of our defense," Buss says. "I understand how the fans feel and what they've been used to, because just like them I'm a fan. And I'm not happy when we lose.

"But it wasn't our intention to change to defense; we went looking for the best coach we could find. Now I think we have to give this approach time. I know it might take away from Showtime, but the ability to get defensive stops in the last minutes of games is something nice to have in your back pocket."

In the meantime, compared to the Clippers, the Lakers sure do suffer.

"I think that's obvious," Brown says. "The way they play with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin jumping out of the building, people love that basketball. I would too, especially if I was a writer.

"Now I'm not saying anything about anybody else's team, but I think our team will be better suited for a seven-game playoff series than a 66-game shortened season with no training camp, a new coach and new system."

Nice speech, but Brown took criticism for the lack of offense in Cleveland. And so I wonder, does he sense any disenchantment or restlessness among Lakers fans that might bring back memories of Cleveland gone sour?

"No, I don't sense that," Brown says. "I don't feel it. Maybe that is because of the way the Clippers are playing and their ascent, but look at the players the Clippers have."

Brown makes a whooshing sound as if comparing Paul to a rocket taking off. I suppose it could have been worse — he could have compared Paul to Derek Fisher.

Then he mentions Mo Williams and Eric Bledsoe.

"Look at my team," Brown says. "Do we have that?"

Name the last Laker to whoosh.

"Our three best players are all post-up players," Brown says. "We don't get easy baskets. We're an execution team, and until we get to the point where we are very good, we're going to look bad at times offensively.

"That's why Andrew Goudelock is so important to us, as a second-round, 53rd or whatever pick. He's the only other guy [besides Kobe Bryant] who can create, but it's tough relying on a No. 2 creator on offense who is a rookie."

Sounds like Brown wouldn't mind adding a little seasoned zip to the Lakers' roster. But while fans might be awaiting the arrival of Dwight Howard or Deron Williams, it's more likely to be a guard no one saw coming.

The Lakers thought they had Paul, but that deal went kaput, and so did Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. Both players have proved to be weak-minded, Odom a mess in Dallas and Gasol whining like a puppy with a thorn stuck in his paw.

Once again in contrast to the Clippers, none of this flatters the Lakers. But barring a trade, what does the team do to rekindle the excitement that was almost second nature to the Lakers for so many years?

"Why would I try to appease the fans and play like we're not capable of playing with the guys that I can put on the floor?" Brown says. "If we win, I don't care what style we play, it's going to be entertaining.

"You know what that job in Cleveland did for my family?" says Brown, who was criticized in Cleveland for having a lack of offense. "I'm not trying to come across as arrogant or anything, but I make $4.5 million a year. Come on now. Come on."

Defense it is, says Brown, and say whatever you want about it taking the fun out of the game. "I haven't seen many offensive coaches sustaining [employment]," he says.

And more than that, he says, you can look it up. By his fourth year on the job in Cleveland, he had the Cavaliers ranked in the top five both offensively and defensively.

But could a Lakers coach, still looking for his first title, last as long here grinding it out?

Maybe it depends on the Clippers, losers Saturday, and yet anyone who spent the afternoon with them had to be feeling it was time well spent.

It's hard to say that about the Lakers these days.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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