Lack of defense bites Lakers again
Looking to find consistency, L.A. gives up another big lead in a loss at Dallas
DALLAS -- Kobe Bryant kept his Mamba side in check and looked as balanced as the scales of justice as he doled out double-digit assists to go with 21 points.
Pau Gasol looked as though he had turned back the calendar to his dominant days of November, scoring 17 points before halftime en route to 23 on an efficient 11-for-16 line for the game.
Lamar Odom continued his All-Star campaign, going for a clean 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Even Steve Blake, he of the 37.2 percent shooting percentage on the season, made three of four shots.
The Lakers topped the 100-point plateau and shot at blistering 54.3 percent from the field.
Oh, right. The defense.
Or lack thereof.
It was "D" all right. Despicable. Disgraceful. Deplorable.
The Mavericks, a team coming into Wednesday having lost six straight games and nine of their past 11, shot 55.0 percent from the field overall and 12-for-26 on 3-pointers (46.2 percent), shooting baskets like fish in a barrel.
"Lack of defense and defensive recognition," Bryant said. "We just didn't do a good job of that."
For the third straight game, the Lakers let a large third-quarter lead slip away. They were up eight on Dallas with just more than three minutes gone in the third before the Mavs did them in with a 28-9 run to go up by 11. The Lakers led the Los Angeles Clippers by 12 in the third on Sunday before losing by seven. Even though they beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, they were up by 15 in the third before Oklahoma City cut it to just three before the quarter was over.
"We keep getting up by 10 and just say, 'Oh, OK. Well, offense is going good, we don't have to play D,' " Andrew Bynum said.
The words to describe the defense displayed by the Lakers made it clear why the back-to-back champions are having such a tough time on the way to trying to defend their title this season.
Bynum called it "lazy," "stagnant" and said the team was "flat-footed" in its closeouts.
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Bryant called it "terrible," "stupid" and as far as their defensive rotations went, he said, "We were late. We fell asleep on the weak side."
For more than a month now, the Lakers have practiced a new form of defense that keep their big men, namely Bynum, parked in the interior to protect the rim at all costs rather than hedge to the perimeter to help when the opposition runs pick-and-rolls.
So far it has been moderately successful. Even with the loss against Dallas, the Lakers are 10-3 over their past 13 games since Bynum returned to the starting lineup.
But on a night when Dirk Nowitzki's tender right knee gifted L.A. only 14 points on a 5-for-15 shooting, the Lakers allowed three other Mavericks to score more than 20 points apiece (Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry).
"We took a step back tonight," Bryant said.
They even let Sasha Pavlovic -- the Mavericks' surprise starter at small forward who was playing on the last day of a 10-day contract while wearing a protective mask because of a broken nose suffered Monday -- go 5-for-7 from the field.
And the worst part was that Pavlovic seemed more in tune with how one finds success in the league than the Lakers seem to be right now.
"I just prepare myself to do the best that I can on defense and I think my offense is going to come," Pavlovic said. "If I play hard on defense, everything else is easy for me."
The Lakers' transition defense could have used Pavlovic's mindset. Dallas outscored Los Angeles 19-11 in fast-break points and a lot of it was a result of the Lakers' 10 turnovers and not getting back to defend.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who usually would rather visit the dentist than call timeout, had to use one with 31.8 seconds left in the third quarter after three Lakers failed to stop Marion on his way to finishing in transition at the rim.
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"I just wanted to talk to the guys," Jackson said. "I thought they were coming apart at the seams."
It was too late. Defense should have been the word on everybody's lips far sooner.
"We got to be consistent in communicating out there to one another so we can be more of a solid team," Gasol said. "We got to be more regular, more consistent throughout 48 minutes, otherwise there's just too many ups and downs for us."
By the end of the game, the Lakers were quite literally defenseless. Jackson subbed in Shannon Brown, Luke Walton, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter into the game with 25.5 seconds left and the team down by 11, waving the white flag.
"We're disappointed in not accomplishing the goals that we needed to accomplish to give ourselves a chance to win," Lakers co-captain Derek Fisher said. "You know, we didn't even have a chance. We're too good not to have a chance to win every night."
If the Lakers want a chance to defend that title, they better get their defense together.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.