Because the Los Angeles Lakers have the second-best record in the NBA and the league’s most prolific offense, it would be easy to assume that they don’t have much room for improvement. Coach Phil Jackson, though, doesn’t agree.
After failing to distinguish themselves in their most recent victory, Jackson’s Lakers look to put together a more complete performance when they host the New York Knicks on Tuesday night.
Los Angeles (20-3) has won 13 of its last 15 games, and only defending NBA champion Boston has a better record at 23-2. The Lakers are scoring a league-high 108.0 points per game, and reached the century mark in 14 straight contests from Nov. 18-Dec. 12.
That streak ended with a 98-86 win over reeling Minnesota on Sunday night, after which Jackson had some critical words for his club.
“It could be,” Jackson said when asked if his team was playing down to the level of its competition. “Our offense was pretty stagnant tonight. We’re trying to find a combination out there that can give us better spacing.
“Right now, it doesn’t seem like our quickness or our execution speed that I like is there. Sometimes the ball stays on one side of the court too long or we’re just not executing.”
The Lakers, who suffered a surprising loss to Sacramento last week, let the Timberwolves pull within six points with 7:43 left in Sunday’s game before finally pulling away late in the period.
“We can’t hold a lead. … That’s awful,” said sixth man Lamar Odom, averaging only 5.8 points in his last 10 games. “We want to play the same way all the time. That’s what great teams do. It’s only December, but we can play a lot better.”
Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni knows his team has plenty of room for improvement as well after it fell 111-103 Monday night in D’Antoni’s return to Phoenix, where he spent the previous four-plus seasons coaching the Suns before signing with the rebuilding Knicks in the offseason.
New York (11-13) has shown some promise under D’Antoni, ranking third in the league with 104.9 points per game in the coach’s fast-paced offense. But the Knicks made only five of their franchise record-tying 37 3-point attempts Monday, falling to 2-2 on a season high-tying five-game road trip that ends Tuesday.
Despite New York’s struggles from behind the arc, D’Antoni was encouraged by his team’s performance.
“I love the way we played,” he said. “We had opportunities to win. We didn’t make our 3s obviously and we had to shoot a good percentage to beat these guys. But overall I’m really excited. I thought the way we played and how hard we played, it was a good measuring stick for us.”
A road game against Los Angeles could be another good test for New York, which has lost four of its last five games against the Lakers at Staples Center, including a 120-109 defeat last season.
Reigning league MVP Kobe Bryant averaged 31.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 9.5 assists while shooting 49.0 percent (24-for-49) in the Lakers’ two wins over the Knicks in 2007-08. However, he’s shooting just 39.7 percent in his last six games.