Lakers letting big leads slip away

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The Lakers might have won four out of their past five games, but they have another negative trend going for them these days.

They're having about as much luck holding on to double-digit leads late in ballgames these days as kids have grabbing on to greased pigs at the county fair.

An 18-point lead against New Orleans was cut all the way to one before L.A. held on to win by five. A 13-point lead against Phoenix was completely erased and then some as the Suns made a fourth-quarter comeback to win by six. A 29-point first half lead against Minnesota was whittled all the way down to four before the Lakers woke up and went on to win by 11.

Why has it been happening?

"I think the biggest thing is, and we talked about it, we have a habit when we’re scoring easily to let down defensively," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said after practice Saturday. "That’s kind of a universal thing, it’s not just us, but instead of being up 20-25 [points] and knocking them out, you’re only up 12 or so."

Kobe Bryant blamed only one of the lapses on the Lakers and credited their opponents for the other two.

"One of those games was the only one where it was really lack of focus, and that was Phoenix," Bryant said. "The other ones, New Orleans played well and executed well and did some things strategically to throw us off, as did Minnesota. They changed up some things defensively, went to a zone, broke up our rhythm, and then they made shots. Phoenix is the only one where we really just had a letdown."

The Lakers were hotter than hot to start Friday's game against Minnesota, scoring 37 points in the first quarter on 15 of 22 shooting overall (68.2 percent) and 5-for-7 from 3-point range (71.4 percent).

"When you’re hitting, hitting, hitting [shots], obviously it’s going to go back to normal," D'Antoni said. "You’re going to shoot about 45-50 percent [for the game]. That means if you’re shooting 60 and you’re up, you’re going to shoot about 30 [percent the rest of the way]. In those times, you just got to play better defense and take advantage of the situation. I don’t think we have. Our defense loosens up when we score easily, and we just have to be aware of that and do a better job."

The Lakers have to be especially cognizant on defense against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, as Detroit has won three of its past four games at home and hung 117 points on Cleveland in their last outing. Not to mention, the Pistons should get an energy boost from Jose Calderon making his debut with the team after the recent three-way deal between the Pistons, Toronto Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies.

"You guys have seen games all the time," D'Antoni said. "It goes up and down. The curse of the early lead -- you’re up 25, and, all of the sudden, here they come back and there’s a momentum switch. So all we have to do is be a little more grittier in moments like that and dig up a little bit on defense."