Magic Johnson says Lakers need to get tougher
The former Lakers great, and current minority owner, says the team will have much to prove in Christmas Day game against the Celtics, who are 'playing better on both ends of the court.'
December 20, 2008
Reporting from Miami and Mike Bresnahan -- Many observers think the Lakers need to show more toughness and shore up their defense.
One of their owners thinks so too.
Magic Johnson, who owns slightly less than 5% of the Lakers, said the onus was on the Lakers to show they could out-defend the defense-minded Boston Celtics in the much-hyped Christmas Day game at Staples Center.
"The Lakers have to prove to the Celtics and to themselves that they can handle the physical play of the Celtics," Johnson said, before referring to Game 6 of last season's NBA Finals. "That last beating that they took by 39 points, that should have left a sour taste in the Lakers' mouth. . . . To me, that was an embarrassment.
"Those guys have got to come out and really prove something to themselves and show the league that they are really ready to challenge the Celtics. Right now, the Celtics believe that the Lakers can't beat them. It's all about the Lakers on Christmas Day."
The Lakers started out among the league leaders in multiple defensive categories, though they have struggled in recent weeks to hold teams under 100 points.
They held the Miami Heat under 100 on Friday night but still lost, 89-87.
The Celtics, meanwhile, are second in the league in fewest points given up (90.3 a game) and lead the league in opponents' shooting percentage (41.3%).
"The Celtics are playing better on both ends of the court," said Johnson, who also works as an ESPN analyst. "You can just tell that they really want to repeat. The Lakers have been struggling big time on the defensive end, so they've got a lot of work to do to come up to where the Celtics are.
"If you break down the Celtics, they only really have one star defensive player in Kevin Garnett, but they play the best team defense that we've probably seen in a long time. Defense has always been in style and it will always be in style if you make a commitment to it if you really want to win the championship."
As for playing on Dec. 25, which he did three times with the Lakers?
"I loved it, and it didn't matter if we were on the road or not," Johnson said. "Just give me the basketball in my hand, and everybody watching me? Oh, man.
"I think, this Christmas Day, you are going to see both teams want each other. Just like back in the day, we wished we played more than two times during the regular season and these guys wish they played more than two games too."
Edited by MDI, December 20, 2008 - 12:30 AM.