Lakers Beat the 76ers, but Have Fourth Quarter Defensive Lapse

Keith Grieve@@87sportsfansContributor IDecember 3, 2008

It's true that a win is a win and in the end it probably doesn't matter how a team gets one.

However, lately I've been writing about whether or not this Lakers team is for real and looking for evidence that come June, I won't be facing another heartbreaking situation like last year.

Suffering only their second loss of the season two nights ago is not a big deal in the scope of trying to make the playoffs. However, how they lost it is another story.

In Philadelphia last night, the Lakers were comfortably ahead after three quarters. They still won by a double-digit margin, yet there's something nagging me about the box score.

It's the number 33. 

That's the number of points the Sixers scored, and therefore Los Angeles gave up, in the fourth quarter. The Lakers were fortunate that they were able to score 29 themselves in the frame to stop the bleeding.

What if they had gone cold?

It's not a new notion that defense wins championships. We all found that out last June. And to be honest, the Lakers don't play bad defense. However, they do have a tendency to coast defensively in the fourth quarter.

Last night, they allowed 33 points. The night before, they gave up 32. Group those with the 29 and 28 points given up to Dallas and Sacramento, respectively, and you might have the makings of a perfect storm.

In the regular season, LA has enough depth to usually score enough to offset any late outburst. However, in the playoffs, one cold shooting fourth quarter by Los Angeles could render the previous 80+ games meaningless.

Phil Jackson's teams are notorious for managing their effort levels and ramping it up later in the season to make sure the team has the proper energy in the tank for the playoffs.

The problem is that not all players can turn it on and off.