LOS ANGELES - There are a few things, away from the basketball court, that can raise the temper of the affable Brett Brown. His competitiveness is fierce, as witnessed during any game he is coaching. But once away from the court, his mood is always light; he is always approachable.
Mention that his team isn't helping itself by winning the way it has of late - four of its last eight and Brown's mood immediately changes. To question whether winning is good isn't something he would ever think about. Not playing or coaching the game at 100 percent is a thought that has never crossed his mind, from his playing days to his coaching days.
He knows a chance at the top pick in June's draft slips with each win. Still, he won't give in to the thinking that losing is better.
"I don't know how to coach anymore if that becomes part of it all," Brown said through a tightened jaw. "I really don't. You can't cheat the game. I get it and I understand it. I just don't even know how to do my job, otherwise. We go about our business. I can't walk into the locker room and do anything else for those guys. They want to play hard. They want to compete. Whatever ends up happening, ends up happening.
"We understand the tom-toms in the marketplace, but our guys are going to go play their hearts out again. I'm proud of the way we play every night. What we make lack in resumes and birth certificates and all of that, we make up for with big spirit and tremendous team camaraderie, despite what our win/loss record says. This is a spirited group and one that I love coaching."
We've seen it happen so often in sports, that once a coach gives up on his team, his players give up on him. If Brown even showed a little bit of that, he would run the risk of losing credibility with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and any other player who might be returning next season.
"We want to end strong," Brown said. "We want to move this needle forward where we feel good about ourselves and we're not cheating the game. We're playing hard and we want to set the stage for a tremendous summer. I want these guys excited. We want to end moving in the direction we were prior to the All-Star break and setting the table for a fantastic summer."
Of all the players who have come and gone during the past couple of seasons, few have made such a positive impression as point guard Ish Smith, who started again last night, his fourth start in 15 games with the team.
In his three starts before last night, Smith averaged 17.7 points and 7.7 assists. In his first 14 games with the team, he has led or tied for the lead in assists in 11 of them. While the starting point guard position moving forward may not be addressed until the offseason, either by draft, trade or free agency, the team seems to have found someone who should get serious consideration as the top backup at that position.
"He has a clear upside," said Brett Brown. "I think that because of his style of shooting - he's a set-shooter - I can see how he can improve with repetition and encouragement and all those types of things in the next short period of time. I think it's harder to fix jump shooters and it's easier to fix set shooters. His form is fine. I see improvement on encouraging him to be a better passer out of pick-and-rolls and find people. He's so good with the ball. He's so athletic at the rim that at times he'll try to do too much and play in a crowd. I think the growth of his passing and reading rotations and how to really punish pick-and-roll defense can be improved upon also.
"Then you have the constant qualities that he's a hell of a teammate, he's an athlete, he's highly competitive. Although he's been around a lot, it's not like he's got a lot of miles on his legs. He really hasn't played a lot, but he's been around a lot. For all those reasons, I just feel like his upside is clear."
After missing a game due to bruised ribs, forward Thomas Robinson was back in action against the Lakers. Robinson suffered the injury against Detroit last Wednesday and tried to play through it but only lasted 16 minutes.