99 Problems and Defense is One of Them


Jan 5, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Nate Robinson (10) dunks the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers during the fourth period at Staples Center. The Denver Nuggets defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 137-115. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Give him credit for dragging a proud franchise into collective misery. It is at a point where it is a burden to watch. And yet it only took Mike D’Antoni 34 games to match an all time low in Lakers history. It is a descent into hopelessness that has not been duplicated in twenty years. The last time the Lakers gave up 130 points in a non overtime game Dennis Rodman led the league in rebounding, Nate McMillain led the league in steals, and John Stockton led the league in assists. Bill Clinton was the President of the United States. That same year was the last time the Lakers were particularly pathetic on defense, outworked, outhustled, outcoached. It was also the last time the Lakers were beaten twice, first by their lack of pride and then by their opponent; that night it was the Charlotte Bobcats. Since that November 24, 1993 beating- the Lakers gave up 140 points then – they have played over 1600 regular season games. They played with Smush Parker. They played with Chris Mihm. They played with Kwame Brown. They played with George Lynch. The played with Anthony Peeler. They played with Slava Medvedenko. They played with Von Wafer. And never have they given up 130 points in a game. Since that November 24, 1993 apathetic two hour torture drill, the Lakers have had ten coaches: Bill Bertka, Randy Pfund, Magic Johnson, Del Harris, Kurt Rambis, Phil Jackson, Rudy Tomjanovich, Frank Hamblen, Mike Brown, Bernie Bickerstaff. And never had they given up 130 points in a game.

Until Mike D’Antoni.

This is the history. When the Lakers gave up 140 points to the Charlotte Hornets in 1993 it was their fifth loss in five games. They gave up over 40 points in the first and fourth quarters, over thirty points in the second and third quarters. Three players for Charlotte scored 20 points: Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson and Johnny Newmann. Charlotte had 27 more rebounds and 12 more assists than the Lakers and they shot 56% from the field.

When the Lakers gave up 135 points on Sunday night it was their seventh loss in nine games. They gave up over 40 points in the fourth quarter, over thirty points in the second and third quarters. Three players for Denver scored 20 points: Nate Robinson, Timothy Mozgov, and Ty Lawson. Denver had 20 more rebounds and 6 more assists than the Lakers and they shot 53% from the field.

Of course a coach with the defensive record of D’Antoni has been here before, this arid landscape of failure. On January 12, 2011, as coach of the New York Knicks, his team gave up 131 points in a game against the Utah Jazz. A year earlier In March of 2010, the Knicks gave up 132 points to the Phoenix Suns. On January 24, 2010, the Knicks gave up 128 points to Dallas which was a 50 point loss for the Knicks. These are the consequences, the reap what you sow repercussions when D’Antoni is the coach, when he is asked to lead a group of talentless men to victories; it is like asking a fever not to be hot.

Of course there is the illusion of something providential occurring down the road, that enough losses equates to some sort of mathematical value to acquire a decent amount of ping pong balls for the lottery and there is discussion that this is why the Lakers are losing like this, they are tanking. If only it were that simplistic then it would give all of this a structure and purpose, an achievement. But tanking is a choice. It implies active participation in losing for delayed gratification purposes. This team isn’t losing on purpose, they are losing because of inferior coaching and inferior players and a corrupt system and it is draining all the life out of them.

Does it even matter that Kendall Marshall was the highlight? He has a beautiful bounce pass and he is skilled at running the break. Watching him with the ball, getting others shots, is a shock to the system- that is how long it has been since the Lakers have had a true point guard. The lesson: point guards are a basic necessity, they have the ability to be special. Kendall’s personal story of resurrection aside, coupled with all of his assists, on Sunday night he left only a thin mark upon the game. A mark in pencil. He could not lift the level of those around him. If he was the sun then the rest of his teammates were broken rain clouds. They did not play as hard as Kendall did. They did not track down rebounds. They did not grab loose balls. They did not make free throws. They did not make three point shots and they took too few two point shots. The truth is Denver wanted to win this game more than the Lakers did and, frankly, they are just better, more talented as a group, which is an even worse indictment on D’Antoni and this team because the Nuggets did not have to play hard to beat the Lakers but they did. And the Lakers had to play hard to beat the Nuggets and they didn’t.

It must have been a redeeming moment for Brian Shaw to come back to Staples Center as a head coach and destroy the franchise that unceremoniously dumped him even as he was loyal and paid his dues for eight years. That he would not turn his back on Phil Jackson in the job interview for head coach seemed to seal his fate with Jim Buss in 2011. Just as that late night phone call in which Phil Jackson was rejected has sealed the Lakers fate in 2014, leaving this weight of gloom. But frankly, this is what arrogance delivers, this is what they asked for. This is what they have. For the way they treated Phil and Brian Shaw- this mess orchestrated by D’Antoni is what they deserve.