LOS ANGELES—There used to be whoops of fun and frivolity from the Los Angeles Lakers when they were a championship-caliber franchise.
Who could forget Shaquille O’Neal standing outside Staples Center on a late June day and bellowing to delirious Lakers fans, “Can you dig it?”
Or Ron Artest sitting on the dais after the Lakers beat Boston in Game Seven and yelling out, “Acknowledge me, please!”
Now, though, the Lakers aren’t doing much yelling. Their catchphrase these days would be something less enthralling: “Beat Charlotte?”
The Lakers are 0-5 and on their way to a lot worse if they lose to the Hornets (3-3) at Staples Center. Their schedule after Sunday’s game takes a decisive turn for the worse: at Memphis, at New Orleans, home against San Antonio, home against Golden State.
It’s hard to remember a Lakers game against Charlotte holding this much significance. And it’s only November. Barely a week into it.
“This is not a given,” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said on Saturday. “Charlotte’s a good basketball team. They were in the playoffs last year.”
The Lakers couldn’t be further from thinking about the postseason.
They’re merely trying to figure out how to stop allowing 116.8 points a game. (Hint: Stop surrendering so many fastbreaks and simple three-point looks.)
Then there’s the offensive side. Kobe Bryant took 37 shots, while the rest of the starters combined for 35 in a 112-106 loss to Phoenix on Tuesday.
It’s a tricky line to straddle: The Lakers don’t have much talent besides Bryant, but they definitely don’t have any balance offensively.
“I’ve talked to a couple individuals about just being a little bit more assertive, not relying on Kobe as much,” Scott said. “You guys can ask Kobe this. I think he wants to get those guys to step up. He really does. Take shots when they have them. Not defer to him as much.”
Jeremy Lin had only eight shots against Phoenix and Carlos Boozer just isn’t shooting well for a power forward (44 percent).
But Bryant needs to step back a bit, Scott added.
“I’ve got to remind him not to chase the ball at times, to let those guys play because sometimes you’ve got to let guys make mistakes,” Scott said. “He tries to bail them out at times. That’s a habit that he has, and he knows that he has to try to break that. That’s hard. He’s been playing this game and he’s one of those guys, ‘OK, if you guys are not doing it, give it to me, and I’ll try to do it myself.’ That’s the competitive nature that he has.”
Bryant did not speak to reporters after Saturday’s practice, but he addressed his teammates in a colorful manner while they huddled after a scrimmage. It couldn’t be entirely heard by reporters, but Bryant was obviously heated.
Steve Nash has been assailed on social media by Lakers fans since posting an Instagram video of himself whacking a golf ball at a driving range.
He tried to explain himself in a Facebook post on Friday, aware that criticism stems from him making $9.7 million while sitting out this season because of chronic back pain.
“There is an incredible difference between this game and swinging a golf club, hiking, even hitting a tennis ball or playing basketball at the park,” Nash wrote. “Fortunately, those other activities aren’t debilitating, but playing an NBA [National Basketball Association] game usually puts me out a couple of weeks. Once you’re asked to accelerate and decelerate with Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving, it is a completely different demand.”
Nash, 40, expressed disappointment he hadn’t played better—or much at all—since being acquired from Phoenix for two first-round and two second-round picks.
“The past two years I’ve worked like a dog to not only overcome these setbacks but to find the form that could lift up and inspire the fans in LA as my last chapter,” he wrote. “Obviously, it’s been a disaster on both fronts but I’ve never worked harder, sacrificed more or faced such a difficult challenge mentally and emotionally.”
Nash will have played only 65 games in three seasons with the Lakers.
Image credits: AP