- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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DENVER -- It was some 16 months ago when Mike D'Antoni gave his introductory news conference with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was admittedly still a little loopy from pain medicine following reconstructive knee surgery, but regardless, the coach jokingly addressed the biggest shortcoming -- at least reputation-wise -- on his résumé right out of the gates.
"Maybe he can put the 'D' back in my name," D'Antoni said of Dwight Howard. "That would be nice. Some people have been taking that out."
Howard is long gone and so are any laughs from poking fun at the Lakers' defensive deficiencies, which have become so atrocious that the final point totals they're giving up lately make you do a double take at the box score.
This week L.A. allowed the New Orleans Pelicans to score 132 points, the Los Angeles Clippers to score 142 points and the Denver Nuggets to score 134 points. All three games were in regulation no less and all three games ended up, not surprisingly, as losses.
The Lakers have no business even dreaming of winning another game this season if they're going to keep giving up 136 points per game.
"You can't win that way," D'Antoni said after a 134-126 defeat to Denver on Friday. "We are trying everything we can do and the players are trying. Just a lot of it is that we were outrun, out-strengthened, outmuscled and out-fought a little bit. I don't know if the air is going out or we're tired or what the problem is."
D'Antoni has repeatedly said the team's best chance to win is by playing with a smaller lineup, spacing the floor and getting up and down the court, but when you don't have a ton of talent on your team, most opponents will do more with that increased amount of possessions and embarrass you with video-game numbers in the process. Ty Lawson had 30 points and 17 assists Friday. Kenneth Faried had 32 points and 13 rebounds. Those stat lines aren't even easy to get on NBA 2K14.
Playing at a more balanced pace masks the talent gap.
Just take a look at the Chicago Bulls. While they lost two of their best players this season in Derrick Rose to an injury and Luol Deng to a cost-cutting trade, they've continued to stay afloat thanks to their defense and grind-it-out style. In their past four wins, they've allowed a total of 358 points.
It's a staggering difference from the Lakers, who have now allowed 50 more points than that, a whopping 408, in their past three losses.
Not that Chicago and L.A. have totally comparable situations even with the things that have gone wrong for their teams this season, but the point is that nobody comes into a game against the Bulls expecting an easy time.
What do they think when they see the Lakers on the schedule these days?
"Teams know that we're not really good defensively and they come into the game saying, 'This is going to be a good day for us on the offensive end.' They get that confidence," Pau Gasol said. "Going into the game, they already have that confident mindset saying, 'Hey, we're going to get a lot of looks tonight and just be ready to knock them down.' So that makes things a little harder."
It's becoming demoralizing. And that goes against everything D'Antoni preaches about the game being fun and the ball finding energy. The lack of a defensive focus is sapping the Lakers of all that.
"We look up and we say, 'Damn, they got 70 in the first half,'" MarShon Brooks said. "We see it too. It doesn't feel good. We just got to find a way to throw five guys out there that's going to play defense and that's going to play hard at the same time."
Said Robert Sacre: "I know I'm tired of it and our team's tired of it."
It's difficult to play hard when you're caught up in your mind being hard on yourself.
"We are way too soft at times and let too many easy things happen," Jordan Farmar said. "As a unit, myself included sometimes. I'm definitely not pointing fingers, but us as the Lakers wearing the same jersey have to figure it out."
They better figure it out quick. Their next four games are two against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who rank No. 5 in the league in offensive efficiency (108.0 points per 100 possessions) and two against the San Antonio Spurs, who rank No. 7 (107.5).
The Lakers, for all of their supposed scoring ability, rank No. 22 (101.3).
"We're probably scoring 120 and losing," Farmar said. "That's even worse, if you can score that many points."
As long as the Lakers are defenseless, those points will remain as empty as something else D'Antoni said at his opening news conference: "We're built to win [a championship] this year."
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