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Lakers' defensive futility reaching epic levels

The 137 points Denver scored Sunday were the most the Lakers have given up in a game since 1993. Their defensive issues are plentiful.

January 06, 2014|By Mike Bresnahan
  • More often than not on Sunday evening, Evan Fournier and the Nuggets were able to get to the basket against the Lakers and, on this play, forward Wesley Johnson.
More often than not on Sunday evening, Evan Fournier and the Nuggets were… (Paul Buck / EPA )

The number stood out like few others since the free-flying days of the 1980s.

The Lakers allowed the Denver Nuggets to score 137 points Sunday.

Somehow it happened. In a stop-and-see-if-you-really-saw-the-TV-ticker way.

Not since 1993 have the Lakers given up that many points in a non-overtime regular-season game. In that beauty, a 141-124 Charlotte Hornets victory on Nov. 24, 1993, Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning combined for 50 points.

Times were different back then. Stopping the ball was sometimes optional for a Lakers team whose featured players included such noted non-defenders as Vlade Divac, Nick Van Exel and Anthony Peeler.

The 137 points the Lakers gave up Sunday were much more notable, an outlier even in this season going nowhere.

The Nuggets' quarter-by-quarter score read almost like the "N" column in bingo: 26-34-33-44. The last quarter was particularly appalling, the Lakers mainly letting a bunch of Denver reserves shoot 70.4% and make 19 baskets, uncomfortably close to a team futility record (Boston had 23 field goals in a quarter against them in 1959).

With references to 1959 and 1993 in the same story, the Lakers' defense might be getting historically bad.

Is it any wonder ESPN and TNT each recently dumped a Lakers game it planned to televise this month?

Coach Mike D'Antoni sometimes chafes at the suggestion he's an offense-only coach. He was asked Monday if the Lakers could be a decent defensive team with so many players sidelined.

"It makes it tougher, but there's no reason why we can't," he said. "The things that we screwed up [Sunday] — just not getting back quick enough, not talking — just little mental errors all over the place. It's solvable, but it's going to take a mental effort that we didn't have."

The patterns have remained the same throughout the season. The Lakers give up way too many fastbreaks, often spawned by their own turnovers. They don't have great foot speed at guard and no bona fide rim protectors, a deadly combination.

Plus, they have a roster of players eminently more concerned with scoring than stopping the ball.

"We have to take pride on keeping guys in front of us," Pau Gasol said after Sunday's fiasco, trying to advocate a pseudo-enforcer stance. "We just have to understand that we can't give up layups and put-backs. We've got to foul them, put them on the foul line — force them to take outside shots, if that's what we have to give up.

"You've got to be solid on the defensive end. That's how you give yourself a chance. If you don't make shots and then you give up 137 points, there's no way in the world you're going to win."

It's worth noting that Denver (16-17) had lost eight of nine, was averaging a middle-of-the-pack 101 points and went without a player (Andre Miller) dismissed from the team for two games after an in-game verbal confrontation with Coach Brian Shaw.

The only thing that seems safe this season is the Lakers' record of giving up 111.8 points a game in 1983-84 — though that team went to the NBA Finals. They currently allow 104.2 a game, 28th in the 30-team league.

Then again, anything's possible. Don't count these Lakers out of any futility records yet.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.

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