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Spring Swoon

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Phil Jackson has a gift for getting his teams to play well at the end of the season. In his 15 seasons as an NBA coach, the worst one of his teams has done in the last 10 games heading into the playoffs is 6-4.

But that was before your 2006-07 Lakers.

These Lakers are 2-4 in their last six, with four games left in the season. Sure, they could go 6-4 in those last 10, if they win their final four games, but if you’ve watched the last six games you can’t believe that will happen. The last month of watching the Lakers has been more painful than watching the final season of the X-Files.

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The problem is not whether Kobe shoots or passes too much. Or who Luke Walton is dating (although, seriously, do you want to follow Kfed?).

The problem is defense. Most trips down the court Phil could just put out some orange traffic cones for the other team to dribble around before they shoot and it would be more effective than whatever the Lakers are doing. On the season, the Lakers have averaged giving up 106 points for every 100 opponent possessions, a sad 24th in the NBA. In the last 10 games that has skyrocketed to 110.8. (Long story short, the best way to judge teams is how they do by possession — every game teams have basically the same number of possessions so the team that uses the better wins.) There are too many issues to name — poor rotations, inability of Smush and the other guards to stay in front of their man, the other teams drawing more fouls per game.

All of it forced the Zen master and unflappable Phil Jackson to resort to playing a zone defense against Denver the other night. Junior high teams play the zone, Phil Jackson doesn't order it. He abhors it. Unless he is desperate.

But these are desperate times for a team that, back in December, had fans dreaming of being a contender. With less than a week to go until the season ends the Lakers have yet to guarantee a playoff spot.

Win tonight against the Clippers and the Lakers get that guarantee. Which is what makes tonight's game basically a playoff game already -- the Clippers can't afford another loss if they want to be in the postseason. Desperation on the part of both teams can make for great, dramatic basketball.

Laker fans just have to hope it also can make for good defense.

AP Photo/David Zalubowski