We all knew that the return of Steve Nash would not fix every problem that the Lakers have been struggling with throughout this season. Of course the offense under the Mike D’Antoni system would run more naturally and things would get easier for everyone under the on-court direction of Nash, but that is solely in regards to the offense. As I pointed out in my last article, the offense was never the problem, with or without Steve Nash.
The major problem for the Lakers is their defense, or should I say consistent defense. After all, there are times where the Lakers time their rotations right, play solid perimeter defense, clog the lane, box-out and get the necessary stops. The problem is that their showcase of proper defense comes in spurts, in particular, in the fourth quarter. Too often than not, their wake up call to play defense comes too late in the game, after they have hit the snooze button on defense for three-plus quarters.
The Clippers match was a perfect example of this. Their offense kept them in the game, despite carrying an approximate ten point deficit for the majority of the game. Their offense wasn’t great by any means, as they once again, took too many threes without converting. Despite bad shooting performances from Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks and Metta World Peace, it was enough to keep them in the hunt. The problem? They gave up 29 points and 32 points in the first two quarters.
The Laker offense closed the game very well, as it typically does, with a 31 point fourth quarter. Their defense kicked in as they finally were able to shrink the court and force the Clippers into a halfcourt game. They took control of the pace of the game and made stops to limit the Clippers into a 20 point closing quarter. Once again, the Lakers stayed true to their habit of creating a hole that is far too often too deep to dig out of, and came away empty handed.
In Sunday’s game against Denver, the Lakers’ defense was a bit less a bit less sporadic than against the Clippers, but it was far from consistent. They let the Nuggets go on too many offensive spurts to close the quarters and the stops they were able to manage was too little to make up. There was lack of communication and connectivity on the defensive end, which has added fuel to their problems this season.
While Kobe Bryant calls for the ball to be in Steve Nash and Pau Gasol’s hands since they are the best facilitators in their respective positions according to the Mamba, which I firmly agree with, that once again is in regards to the offense. While the offense still needs tweaking, regarding Pau’s positioning, the pick-and-roll game between Nash and Howard, etc., the Lakers need to get consistent with their defense.
I have always believed that if a player is struggling on one end of the court, which of course is going to happen, they need to make up for it on the other side. That is why I am having a hard time comprehending Pau Gasol’s performance for the majority of the season. D’Antoni’s system is not complimentary for Gasol’s game. Anyone with eyes can see that. Therefore, adjustments have to be made as long as Pau remains a Laker, even if it disrupts D’Antoni’s desired system.
However, here’s my problem, which I know I’m not alone in having. Gasol’s effort on the defensive end barely has a pulse. He is getting out-rebounded and out-hustled by smaller players. He simply looks lost on defense. To say he is struggling to guard against the pick-and-roll would be an understatement. Getting back on transition may be worse, as Blake Griffin put clinic on of what to do when your assigned opponent doesn’t get back on transition defense.
“[The Lakers] struggle mightily with the roll man in the pick-and-roll. The Lakers perimeter defenders can’t stay in front of the ball handler, the big man helps and everything breaks down. The roll man shoots 57 percent when he gets the ball back against the Lakers, according to Synergy Sports. That’s 28th in the NBA.”
“There are other issues. The Lakers are 23rd in the NBA in defending isolation according Synergy. Also the “old and slow” Lakers struggle with teams that can push the ball in transition, something the Clippers did well. If your big men can run the floor well — and the Clippers’ bigs can — you can get easy and spectacular shots.”
Yet, you cannot direct all the blame on Gasol. Defense is a total team effort. Right now, the reason for the poor defensive rotations is that no one is helping, and when someone does, no one helps the helper. Maybe the chemistry issue that Dwight Howard was recently referring to had to do with their defense more than anything. After all, everyone has to make their mark on defense for it to work. This will be even more challenging for the team to obtain given the injuries to their frontcourt.
In addition, the perimeter defense is just as inconsistent. Kobe Bryant, who has been a solid perimeter defender throughout his career, needs to step it up. Further, while Darius Morris did do a great job defending Damian Lillard against Portland recently, his defense against top notch point guards this season has been hard to watch at times. The theme? Inconsistency.
That it why there’s little surprise at the defensive struggles when the Lakers face teams that feature great point guards. With the Lakers facing Jeremy Lin, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving this week alone, Kobe Bryant (who will most likely get the assignments) must stay in front of them and limit their ability to penetrate and make plays.
It may come down to the players taking matters into their own hands, as Mike D’Antoni is not defensively minded. While Howard’s defense will only improve as his health improves, the defense cannot depend on one player alone. As I said before, defense is a total team effort. Some may be better than others, but everyone needs to have an input. Individual accountability on defense will turn into mutual accountability on defense as a team, if commitment is there.
We all know that defense wins championships. With the Lakers getting closer to the halfway mark of the season and still are stuck under the .500 mark, the Lakers cannot cruise into a hopeful playoff spot depending on the offense. They can play defense. Their typical fourth quarter play proves that. The name of the game is consistency. Play every second of those 48 minutes as a total defensive unit.