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Magic Johnson and Much Ado About the Lakers

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Sayeth Magic Johnson at Dodger Stadium on Monday, "We have got to get back to playing solid defense. That will make the offense go." It wasn't the Dodgers he was talk about either.

It's funny how the Lakers can hijack the headlines in a city. Never mind the team that Johnson actually owns just created shock waves in their league and can perhaps change the entire economics of the league. Never mind there is a much more entertaining (i.e. winning) NBA team that also calls STAPLES Center home. Never mind the Lakers have a losing record.

I was at Dodger Stadium on Monday after witnessing the Ryu Hyun-jin press conference and cringing at how bad the translator was, after eavesdropping on general manager Ned Colletti and managing to get some questions in to Ryu, half of which I did ask in Korean.

I looked around and saw Magic Johnson by the entrance at the Stadium Club holding court with Jim Hill of CBS2 LA/KCAL9, Joe McDonnell of Fox Sports West and several others. The LA Times Bill Shaikin whispered to me that he was only talking about the Lakers to which my eyes grew exponentially.

Of course. I guess 17 championships does create a certain cachet.

"Right now we're all screwed up," head coach Mike D'Antoni said after the Lakers lost the first game of their four-game road trip, a 100-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers came into the game with a 4-17 record missing star point guard Kyrie Irving the last 11 games with a broken left index finger. But there he was in the starting lineup, and everyone could just gush at the though of a Kobe Bryant-Irving match up. Bryant scored 42 points on 16-for-28 shooting while Irving had 28 points going 11-for-21.

A lot has been made of the Lakers offense, the Hack-a-Howard strategy, the shitty free throw shooting. The rest of the team not named Kobe shot 32%, Howard went 13-for-22 at the free throw line and the team as a whole missed 15 free throws (25-for-40 for 63%).

But that's not it. The team is shitty because of the defense, or lack thereof. Nothing best exemplifies just how shitty the defense is than this play with just under a minute left in the game.

The Lakers trailed 92-87 and needed a stop to try and get a bucket the other end of the floor to cut it to a one possession game.

Irving passed the ball to Anderson Varejao on the right side of the paint. Chris Duhon peeled off Varejao who was now left alone. Varejao bounced the ball, looked around, buffed his nails, pulled a load and shot a 12-foot jumper to give the Cavs the 94-87 lead while the Lakers looked on without moving. Timeout Lakers.

Earlier in the quarter Irving ran down the floor while everyone anticipated a pick-and-roll with Varejao at the top of the key. It didn't happen, yet two Laker defenders worked their way to Irving. Varejao peeled behind the defenders, Irving hit a bounce pass that split the defenders and Varejao got the easy layup untouched.

This is the Lakers defense, and this is the culprit to why the Lakers are now 9-13.

D'Antoni after the game told reporters that they do spend time going over defense during practices and shootarounds. He even got defensive with T.J. Simers telling him, "You're starting to piss me off."

That's nice and all, but the Lakers aren't a defensive team and never will be with D'Antoni at the helm unless he hires an assistant who specializes in defense. Of course his refusal to do that while in Phoenix was one of the reasons he was shown the door there.

So what makes anyone think this will get any better?

"You hire Mike D'Antoni, a coach who wants to run, but you don't have a running team," Johnson said. "Does that make sense? It doesn't make sense to me."

It doesn't make any sense.

In the meantime, there are a lot of excuses to go around. There's no Steve Nash. No Pau Gasol. No Steve Blake. D'Antoni's knees are still bad. They need more time to learn the system.

That's fine, but none of that addresses the problem of the defense.

When the Lakers started the season 1-4, I was sure the Lakers would slowly get it together. But as the season has progressed, there is little evidence of any progression. I still think the Lakers just might make the playoffs maybe. But they're a long way from resembling anything close to a playoff team.


All the while I feel a little bad for the $230 million Dodgers, the NBA with an actual winning record and championship hope in the Clippers. But I suppose it's more enthralling to witness a downfall than cheer an ascension.