The setting was Dodger Stadium, where Magic Johnson was introducing the newest player for the baseball team that he partly owns. After that bit of business was completed, Johnson left the stage and the conversation quickly turned into a tough-love session for the basketball team he formerly played for.
The Los Angeles Lakers dropped to 9-12 after a 117-110 loss to the Utah Jazz on Sunday and that got Johnson to again break his mother’s admonition to keep his mouth shut if he couldn’t say something nice. The last time he spoke up, he wasn’t thrilled with the team’s choice of Mike D’Antoni over Phil Jackson as coach.
“We have got to get back to playing solid defense,” he said (via Fox Sports), opening with, because this is Magic Johnson, a smile. “That will make our offense go. Kobe [Bryant] is not going to ever have trouble scoring. [Pau] Gasol — if we put him in the right position — won’t have trouble scoring. Dwight [Howard] can score. So, we can score. But we can’t outscore everybody. You have to play defense first. Then you have to go down to the offensive end and score.
“Our transition defense is terrible, and every team is running [over] the Lakers right now because they know they’re faster, quicker and more athletic than the Lakers. So, if it takes us to slow the game down, that’s what we should do. You know what we’re doing — we’re speeding it up, putting ourselves in a tougher position. When we’re taking [and missing] long 3-point shots, which gives the opposition an opportunity to fast break more.
“So, we have to figure out what’s a good shot and what’s a bad shot. Also, do we really want to run with everybody when we really don’t have runners? That’s the key.”
The Lakers are nine games behind the Western Conference’s leader, San Antonio. That wasn’t supposed to happen after the addition of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard and after a coaching change. But Nash has been injured and Pau Gasol has missed four straight games because of knee tendinitis.
“I love the Lakers so much and I die with every single game they lose. I’m frustrated because I love them so much. And I don’t like where we are. I watch the faces, and it’s almost like [the players] don’t know what they’re doing or how to do it.
“The Lakers better understand this: Every team in the league is liking what’s happening to the Lakers. We’ve always had the upper hand on everybody. Now they’re coming and saying ‘wait a minute, we can beat the Lakers now.’ We’ve got to rise up to that challenge and right now we’re not.”