Remember the Mantra

Kurt —  March 16, 2009
Texas News - January 14, 2009

The Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them

I typed that sentence roughly 8 million times in the preseason and the first month of games. But as the season has moved on and wins kept piling up, the early season mantra has faded out. The offense has been beautiful, shiny toy that distracts us from a defense that is at times brilliant and at times frustrating.

But the mantra remains true. It is the Lakers defense that is the key to a title — and now is the time to start really ratcheting it up.

Which is why the Dallas game was frustrating. The Lakers were in control of that game early because of that distracting offense — Pau Gasol was in control of the paint and that was opening up wide-open threes for Ariza and others. But while the Lakers were shooting 71% eFG% in the first quarter, Dallas was shooting 67%. It wasn’t Dirk and Kidd, the Lakers did a good job of pushing those two out of the places they wanted to be on the floor, then contesting their shots and passes (at least early in the game).

Then Terry entered the game and quickly nailed two threes for Dallas. He’s like that; this is a pure shooter and a guy who for a night can carry a team. They run him of screens so he can catch and shoot, put him on the weakside so he can get skip passes. The Lakers know this, he has burned them before. This means you have to adjust, you don’t stray far from the hot hand. So what do they do? Sasha, Ariza and Walton all had turns on him, and while Terry hit some contested shots the Lakers players — particularly bench players — were not getting through picks fast enough and he was getting a lot of open looks. Bigs were not helping out. It was a team effort.

Then the Lakers offense started helping Dallas — long jumpers against a zone that missed and became long rebounds led to fast break and early clock chances for the Mavericks.

Finally, when it mattered, the Lakers got stop by pressuring the ball on Kidd and Dirk, not letting them make the clean, easy pass to Terry or anyone else. But the Lakers went lax on defense for a long time. Rather than put a team away again, they played around. Phil Jackson said as much after the game, saying the Lakers now do not have the killer instinct of the team from earlier this season. That is particularly true on defense, and particularly with the bench, which seems to want to steal and break rather than play team defense.

That frustrating game followed a couple where the Lakers defense was also up and down.

In Houston, the Lakers could not stop the Rockets inside — Yao Ming and Luis Scola combined to shoot 14 of 18. Part of the problem here for the Lakers was not having Bynum, but the Rockets were able to get balls inside on a defense that is supposed to protect the paint. The Lakers did a poor job slowing entry passes or interior passes. Fortunately for the Lakers, Brooks and Artest wanted to do all the shooting, and the Lakers played those two well. With Artest, they just didn’t let him get to the rim and he was not hitting his jumper (plus, he just destroys the flow of their offense when he tries to take over a game).

The one good thing the Lakers did against the Rockets was pressure the ball and create turnovers. When the Lakers defense is going well against anyone, you see this. Phil Jackson talked about this in a backhanded way: When asked the difference between the NBA Finals Mavs of a couple years ago and these Mavs, he talked about the ball pressure defense. How they never let you get easily into the offense or the spots you wanted on the floor. The current Mavericks team doesn’t do that.

The Lakers do it sporadically. Then did it in the final minutes against Dallas Sunday and it worked.

Against the Spurs, the Lakers used a smart defensive system, as Darius explained.

I really liked how we kept the ball on one side of the court against the Spurs offense (the Spurs really helped us accomplish this by continuing to initiate their sets from the wing, but that’s a tangential discussion). We did not allow Parker to get back to the middle of the court and continued to force him baseline and feed him to our bigs. Parker would much rather shoot from directly in front of the hoop with his floater or come at an angle where he can use the glass, but when he comes from the side and he can’t do either he will not force it. I also liked the way that Odom played Parker when we switched the P&R-following him through the lane and then chasing him back to the perimeter, playing off him, and then contesting his jumpers. In the second half, we didn’t do as good a job of keeping Parker out of the middle of the court and he showed why he’s one of the better scoring guards in the league.

Part of the challenge for the Lakers is that their best defense seems to flow out of the offense — when they are hitting shots and they have time to set the defense and put on whatever level of ball pressure, they do it. When shots don’t fall, someone argues with the ref while a couple teammates are back trying to stop a break or a drag play (a high screen early in the shot clock before the defense sets). When the Lakers are set, they tend to be good.

Having Ariza in the starting lineup seems to help. Against Dallas, we saw him spend time on Jason Kidd, a PG too big for Fisher but not a good enough shooter to warrant Kobe’s full time attention. Ariza can guard positions one through three, and it opens up what the Lakers can do. In the second half against Mavs he spent time on Terry, Kidd and Singleton, and the Lakers use him as the long-armed closeout guy on the weakside of the zoned off defensive scheme.

But we all know the Lakers have the personnel to play good defense. The question is are they focused on it. Right now, starting in the next stretch, they need to get that laser focus back.

The Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them.

Kurt

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78 responses to Remember the Mantra

  1. I agree that the team needs to play better defense. The thing that concerns me most is how we let teams get back into games and it feeds their confidence to make the type of push that wins games. This dates back to the Finals. And even though we improved in this area at the start of the season, we have regressed as the season has progressed. My only solice in all this is that we seem to be able to get the key stop that we need in order to pull out the win. That is the mark of a good defensive team, but like Phil has said a team with a killer instinct will bury you with stops and take away that confidence that inspires a comeback. Even against a mentally tough team. I hope and believe we’ll get that mentality back though.

  2. The only thing that kind of worries me is that we came out of the gate strong this season. Last season we were pretty much written off and we rallied at the end. I hate to say we are coasting through the rest of the regular season but we are definately bored. We are just waiting to play Boston in the finals forgetting we kinda have to get there. I hope the coaching staff can fix “the little things” and we can remember the mantra

  3. Great post. Certainly delineates some of the frustration of watching the Lakers. I think the Lakers can do it. I think if anyone can get them to do it, it’s Phil. And I hope that if Bynum comes back, he’ll provide some shot blocking threat inside so the perimeter guys will feel more comfortable staying at home.

  4. i totally agree with this and share the frustration that may come with this. i know the lakers can lock down a team and that indeed showed in our very early run this season. it’s an attitude problem, seemingly confident to coast along and in-games knowing kobe is there to explode and somehow win the game. there seems to be little remorse in the eyes of our young bench after they just let the opposition get back in. or if any, i hope it translates in the next game. other than the suns blowout and stretches against the spurs, i have yet to see that fire this stretch from our young guns. that’s disturbing. that allows trade thoughts and what ifs (and more should we not win the trophy because plain and simple it’s ours to lose) to haunt you albeit a lot of them unwarranted.

    but on the other hand, this is a nice problem compared to the woes of other contenders and more with bottom-feeding teams. but i say we are given the here and now and with bynum back soon that all the more tells me we have the here and now to take a stake. players have to put their heads in the game. for some reason i think lamar can be key in leading this late charge. if he treats every game as a boston challenge, he can dominate. that’s scary. but he doesn’t. the bench knows their starters can overwhelm the other team at least in offense and that’s not a pretty mindset either.

    in summary, again, this is not as disturbing as other teams’ concerns. as ludden (man, reading his posts tickles me at times, sorry for being a tat biased) says, we have the attention back. and every team will play their best against us. and they will use our misgivings to beat us and leave us wondering what hit us. for this year, it’s ours to lose and the lakers have to oblige by indeed, taking it to the opposition. best way? D.

  5. I think the key thing your post shows is that to win the title, the Lakers will need Andrew Bynum. It is no shock that our top defensive units, in terms of points per possession (according to 82games) involve Bynum (and to an extent Ariza).

    I see Bynum’s effect as two-fold, 1) he allows the team to not play such a packed in defense, thus allowing our perimeter players to stay closer to their man, which should cut down on oppossing teams open 3 pt baskets and 2) he will provide a true shot blocking presence that will result in altered, blocked, or not attempted shots at the basket.

    Ideally, he will be able to play 20-25 minutes a game for us in the playoffs, and thos minutes will be big.

  6. Every team has little things to work out. I think any concerns about defense can be attributed to complacency rather than lack of.

    Call me crazy, but this has shown me enough this season for me to feel secure int he belief they will be fine throughout the playoffs. We as fans, tend to look for some sort of perfection for this team because whether we realize or not, it Championship or bust. So we need more, we want more. I think the team is pretty much in the same boat we’re in. They are waiting for the show to start.

    I believe the focus is still there for most part, except for the 2nd Unit. But then again, they were playing against starters for the 1st half of the 4th Q. I think how they are performing offensively dictates their defense, but I don’t expect Phil to let them “figure” it out come playoff time. He’ll call the timeout, or make the substitution when needed, so it’s up to them to make sure they stay in the floor. Their focus will be there.

  7. It seems to be popular to blame many of the problems on the bench – and indeed, they are not performing at the lofty standards they set earlier in the year. However, I think it is time to recognize two important issues:

    1. Our Bench is not as a deep as it was at the beginning of the season.
    2. We do not need that 10 man depth to win in the playoffs.

    1. Early on, we had Farmar, Vujacic, Ariza, Odom, and Bynum or Paul playing as a second unit. As you can see, that group is a terror to compete with. There are few Starting 4-5 combos that can handle Odom and Bynum. It is unfair to compare this group of bench players, Farmar, Sasha, Walton, Powell and Gasol/Odom. And that discounts the minutes that Mbenga has been playing. Our team is not nearly as loaded as it appeared early in the season.

    2. 8 man rotations are the norm in the playoffs, and if we can get Bynum back healthy, we will not have to see much of Mbenga/Powell (as much fun as they are to watch…). I am hoping this helps the offensive flow (by removing some of our poorest offensive performers), which in turn helps our defense.

  8. To clarify, I am in no way in panic mode about either our bench or our defense. I think the playoffs will get this team to focus, and Bynum’s return solves a lot of our bench issues.

    But, as I said a few posts back, the things I used to casually write off as “it’s just one game” or “there is time to fix it” deserve a more urgent look now with just 16 games left. There is time for things to turn around, but the turn around needs to start soon.

  9. 8-Exactly, there is no reason to believe that the way we are playing going into the playoffs won’t impact the way we perform once the playoffs begin.

    As far as playoff rotations, in my mind Farmar is playing his way off. I think a 3 guard rotation is fine for the playoffs and regardless of badly Sasha is shooting the ball, he brings more to the team (especially when not paired with Jordan) than Jordan does.

    8 man rotation:
    Fish/Sasha
    Kobe/Sasha
    Ariza/Luke
    Odom/Pau
    Pau/Drew

  10. Two points to make. First, the bench’s problem is figuring out how to play with each other. Vlade, Walton, and Ariza have all been key contributors off the bench, but each brought something radically different to the offense (outside shooting, triangle offense, and motion respectively). Bynum in the game meant someone running with the second unit would command a double team. Not so much now. This leads to fewer open lanes for Jordan to drive into and fewer open jumpers for Sasha. So our second unit’s offense has suffered visibly for obvious reasons. Why they give up enough points to let the other team back in the game though… ugg. Man up, people!

    Second, we’re winning close games. We’re winning. Period. Championship teams don’t blow the opposition away every game, they find a way to win. By one or 100, it’s still a W, and we’re getting those. No, we’re earning those. Look across the hallway, and the Clippers inspire no confidence, even if they have an 18 point lead. If we’re down 5, we still believe we’ll win.

    Enjoy it.

  11. The dynamic of the bench has changed dramatically over the season. From Luke not playing, to Luke starting, to injuries, espcially Bynum’s, to Vladi getting traded, to Ariza starting – our bench has changed. Clearly, the changes have affected the flow of the 2nd Unit. I think it will make our team stronger though.

    Kwame,

    We need Farmar.

  12. To piggy back some on the talk of rotations…

    When Bynum comes back (whether he starts or not) we will be able to play 2 starting caliber big men on the court at all times. This makes such a big difference in our ability to play strong offense and defense that it’s almost amazing that we’ve won at the clip that we have without Bynum in our rotation. When we would start a game with Fish, Kobe, Luke, Pau, and Bynum we could control the flow of the game against any opponent and do it on both ends of the court. When Bynum, Luke, and Fish would sub out and Farmar, Ariza, and Odom would come in, we would push the pace and wear down any second unit that played against us. I mean, we would essentially bring in 3 more starter quality players (or 2 if you want to consider Farmar non-starter quality) and form a unit that is good enough to compete against most starting units, and throwing that group up against backups. Then when Sasha would come in for Kobe at the start of the 2nd quarter, he’d still be paired with LO, Pau or Bynum, Fish or Farmar, and Ariza. That’s still a very strong unit whose front court strength is of a caliber that most teams would love to have starting.

    My main point is: this is where Bynum’s presence is a major boost. As I said earlier, we’re still a fantastic team with Bynum injured as Powell and Mbenga have given us good minutes. But the key to our team (besides that Kobe guy) is the fact that we have three starting (quality) Big Men who (with Pau as the swingman/fulcrum) can all play together and man our frontcourt with a versatility that can’t be matched across the entire league. While I think we can win it all without Andrew, I believe with every fiber in my body that if he returns healthy our rotations become elite again and that’s the ball game. Nothing is a given (championship wise), but with him in the fold, we now have two units that can dictate to any team in the league. We’ll make them match up with us. Add that to our coaching (the staff’s ability to create a game plan to disrupt other teams’ strengths) and we should be in the driver’s seat.

    Also, Kwame: I don’t see us relegating Farmar to a non-player for us. I agree that he’s been playing poorly, but we know that he’s able to do things for our team with his quickness and offensive ability that will help us. The staff knows this too. Plus, if Phil was not willing to sit him down against Utah last season-when Williams and the Jazz’s other guards were giving him fits-then I doubt he’ll do it this year.

  13. 11/12- I think our guard rotation was better when Farmar was out. I think he is a liability on defense and does not run the offense. When paired with Ariza they get out and run well, but if Ariza is gonna be a starter, I really think that Sasha can contribute more. Why do you think Farmar deserves playoff mins?

  14. Well neither Jordan nor Sasha has played very well this year. Sasha’s shooting was his one strength, really, especially since his pesky defense seems to result more and more in quick, cheap fouls on the perimeter. But his shot has all but abandoned him this year. Shooting 35% from three won’t cut it for Sasha.

    The backup guard minutes in the playoffs should come down to which one of these two guys performs the rest of the season.

  15. Matt-That’s fair, Sasha hasn’t exactly earned the role either, but did play his best ball this year as the backup PG.

  16. Kurt, you should point out that the Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them. I don’t understand why you don’t emphasize this enough. Don’t the Lakers listen to you?!

    I think something that has happened a little is that the SS zone burned them a little. You can argue whether that’s inherent in the SS zone, or they simply gambled too much within it, but in either case it seems to me that they have reacted by just retracting their effort level.

    And is it just me or does the BM (Bench Mob, not the other) gamble more at home, with the urging of the crowd? Steals and breaks are certainly a crowd-pleaser.

  17. While defense has bugged me at times, I must say that for the most part I have been pretty cool with it on the whole when the Lakers are in big games (i.e. Celtics, Cavs, Spurs) — this is not to say that I still don’t see stuff that makes me grind my teeth, just that they seem to play to the level of the competition. They’re far from a lock to take home the trophy, but I do like our chances this year a little better than I did last year, regardless of whether or not Bynum is healthy.

  18. Also, all I really want for playoffs is for Mbenga to have figured out how to stay in the game without picking up fouls. That would solve so many problems with or without ‘Drew as he brings so much energy to that second unit on the defense end. Pau would get rest, and he would shore up the middle when the starters were out of the game. I’m not even remotely asking him to score, just get a a block a game and not foul out. It’s why I hate seeing him in the game early in quarters, because I just know that he’s gonna send the Lakers racing into the penalty and we’ll see the other team on the free throw line more even after he comes out.

  19. My opinion about Sasha is that he is in a funk because of playing with Farmar. Don’t know how to explain it, but, if he spent more time with Kobe, or anyone else other than Farmar, he’d be playing better. Last year, and his time as a backup PG make me believe that.

  20. Re. 9 (and 11 & 12)

    I am in 100% agreement with Kwame A. In fact, I was about to post a similar playoff roation with a minor tweak. The idea is each unit must be comprised of scorers and initiators. Too many scorers bogs down the offense (the issue the second unit was having without Walton). The playoff rotation should be three units:

    First Unit:
    Fish
    Kobe
    Ariza
    Pau
    Bynum

    Fish and Pau are the initiators and Kobe, Ariza, and Bynum are the scorers. This allows Pau to have a defined, active role at the start of the game (he drifts if he’s out there with Walton – another initiator). Pau sets up as a passing hub in the high post – which lets Bynum work as a scorer from the low post, where he’s most comfortable.

    Second Unit:
    Sasha
    Kobe
    Ariza
    Odom
    Pau

    Kobe and Odom are the initiators with Sasha/Ariza/Pau as the scorers. This is the section of the game where after getting his team going with scoring (as Kobe likes to do in big games) he becomes a distributor. This allows Pau to get his scoring going, as he will be the primary focus in the low post. Sasha will be available as a spacing outlet – if his shot is on – you kick it out, if it’s not, you shorten his rotation. I prefer Sasha to Farmar because Sasha at least understands the concepts of the tri, and proper spacing. Farmar is most interested in pounding the ball and looking for his own shot (which has been errant for quite some time).

    3rd Unit (the shortest run)
    Fish
    Sasha
    Walton
    Odom
    Bynum

    Odom and Walton are the initiators, Fish, Sasha, & Bynum are the scorers. The length of the run for this unit is dependant on whether or not Fish and Sasha are “on” from the perimeter.

    Depending on matchups, you can always sub in Walton in that second unit for extended run, making Kobe a scorer in the 2nd unit if that’s what the team needs.

    Farmar CAN bring good things to the table, but he hasn’t for quite some time. He’s shown no interest in running the offense or playing defense for long enough that it can no longer be chalked up to a slump.

    I’m fine with Phil seeing if Farmar can bust his way out of this prolonged slump by the end of the regular season, but if he hasn’t, I don’t see the value in putting him in and watching leads evaporate in the playoffs, when the games REALLY matter.

  21. @kwame a. and Matt, I do recall that at the start of the season Jordan was playing some really good defense. Since he was injured, not so much. I still have hopes of seeing a resurgence on that front.

  22. DJ Mbenga will not play in the playoffs unless Tim Duncan or Yao Ming get all of our quality big men (Pau, LO, Drew) in serious foul trouble. Even if Drew does not come back (God forbid) Josh Powell is our next best big.

    So only time Mbenga sees PT is in case of unprecedented foul trouble, or together with Shannon Brown, Sasha, Morrison and Powell in garbage time. Which just made me think that such a would be simply very very ugly to watch in terms of execution

  23. ariza can be for us what posey was for the celtics.

    i hope none of our guys fade out during the playoffs / finals (if we get there)

  24. Heh. Just got my “Real Men Don’t Wear Green” just in time for St. Paddy’s Day. My Life is now complete.

  25. Ariza is a starter and Posey is a reserve – that is one big difference.

    Powell is a productive bench player. i really don’t understand why many of us seem to dismiss him. I relooked at the Mavs game and he did play well when in there. He is not a person you depend on for points, but he is a reasonably good shooter, and he can rebound well and play serviceable defense – that’s all we should ask of a bench player in his 1st year in the triangle.

    The 2nd unit is failing because they don’t have a go-to shooter and they press/shoot 3s too much. Like the 1st unit, their defense is dependent on their offense and they are rather poor when their offense is not going well.

    Since this defensive attitude is true of the entire team, I have to blame the coaches at this time of the year. We just don’t have the coaching commitment to defense 1st on this club.

  26. j. d. hastings March 16, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Watching Kevin Durant, he’s one of the rare players that when he shoots I’ll think, “That’s a terrible shot! Oh, is that Durant? Nevermind.” Kobe’s on that list too, but not many others are.

    Spurs down with 2:31 left in OKC.

  27. j. d. hastings March 16, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Spurs down 4 now with about 1:30 left.

  28. j. d. hastings March 16, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Spurs down 2 with the ball, 18 seconds left. If I’m in the OKC huddle I’m telling someone not to leave Roger Mason even if they see their own mother on fire on the other side of the floor.

  29. Kwame,
    I am not saying that Farmar deserves minutes, per se, but I am saying that his role is to back up Fisher. It’s the same argument I used in the Dallas game thread to say that Sasha should remain in his current role instead of inserting Ammo in his place. I know that Sasha played better when Farmar was injured, but it wasn’t necessarily because of the minutes that he played as back up PG (remember Fisher’s minutes took a major jump and he ended up playing several games topping out at over 40 minutes). I think Sasha’s production rose and his play was better primarily because he was seeing more minutes overall. I’ve said this before, but Sasha is a player that plays with more confidence when his minutes increase, but last season those minutes were available as the defacto SF as the wing closer opposite Kobe. This year those minutes are going to Ariza (and I’ve argued this before, but Sasha and Ariza’s roles are the ones that are in conflict, not Sasha’s pairing next to Farmar. Because it’s those minutes that Ariza gets next to Kobe that Sasha used to get and would play well during). Sasha is a player, imo, that benefits playing next to Kobe, but in a role where he’s not the PG. This is the reason that I also don’t really agree that Sasha can’t play next to Farmar. When you look at last years’ stats over at 82games you’ll see that 4 of the top 5 units that Sasha played on were ones where he was flanked by Kobe, but also by Farmar. This season, he’s not played nearly as many minutes with Kobe, but you still see that he’s still most effective when Farmar is the PG (the difference this year is that he’s flanked by Odom and either Gasol/Bynum at Center). This is why I was saying that Bynum’s healthy return and the restoring of the rotations where our backup guards are teamed with starting caliber big men will only help their production. Sorry, that really turned into a comment about Sasha…

    Back to Farmar for a second. Like I said earlier, I think he plays because that’s his job. It’s not Sasha’s, it’s his. I can see playing Fisher more, but I still think that we’re looking at at least 20 games this post season and that we’ll need quality minutes from Farmar to help out in those games so Fish doesn’t get worn down. I’m just not into changing a bunch of roles going into the playoffs, when what we have *does* work (and should be even better when our frontcourt rotation returns to what we had earlier in the season when Bynum was healthy).

  30. j. d. hastings March 16, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    OKC wins despite scoring only 78 points. Last night Golden State lost despite scoring 130. How about that?

  31. Here’s a thought experiment: How do teams give up leads? Well, to do that, we have to figure out how a team builds a lead. In my opinion, there are two types of leads: Fortune leads and Effort leads.

    Fortune leads are the type where either our team makes a ton of shots (10-10 from the field, 4-4 from three type stuff), or when the other team misses a ton of shots (1-9 to start the quarter, stuff like that). In these cases, we are fortunate to have the lead, and as things regress back to the mean, we should expect the opposing team to make up the gap at least somewhat.

    Effort leads come from outworking the opposing team. This means getting to loose balls, getting offensive rebounds, limiting opponents to one shot, contesting each shot, and preventing easy baskets (dunks, etc). When you outrebound someone 10-2 on the offensive glass in a quarter, this usually leads to an effort lead, because of second chance points and easy putbacks.

    Now, how do we give up leads? I believe a fortune lead will inevitably be given up as an opposing team reverts to the mean, the Dallas game being a prime example. They short horrendously in the first half, we shot one of the best games of the season; when both teams regressed, all the Mavs shots started falling and we went cold. As for an effort lead, the only way I feel that one can give up an effort lead is to get outworked in return by the opposing team. The San Antonio game fits this description, where we got out to a huge first quarter lead, then got outworked by the Spurs that allowed them to come back.

    However, I believe a combination of the two leads, a fortune lead and an effort lead, is insurmountable. The Blazers game and the most recent Cleveland game here in Staples are good evidence of this. The Blazers outworked us and had all their shots fall in the first half, and we were unable to get anything going the entire game. Similarly, we outworked the Cavs and all our shots feel in the 1st half against them, and we wound up beating them by 20 something.

    So, the question is, what can we do to prevent this? There is only one answer that can explain all possible scenarios: “Don’t get lazy.” If we get lazy on offense, we start taking bad shots, which lead to transition offense which doesn’t allow our defense to get set, causing lots of easy baskets for the opposing team. If we get lazy on defense, we start giving up open threes, helping on drives that don’t need to be helped on, and giving up easy baskets.

    Now, just saying, “well, don’t be lazy” isn’t quite enough. There are a couple things that I think the Lakers could do well to implement right now:

    1.) Stop helping off three-point shooters. Yes, it’s very tempting to go for that steal, Sasha/Jordan/Trevor/Kobe/Derek/Luke, but an open three has somewhere between a 40%-45% chance of going in, whereas a semi-contested 2 has about the same odds with one less point given up. When you’re guarding Roger Mason Jr./Michael Finley/Jason Terry, you should not be the person helping, ever. Our bigs are meant to show hard and curb every dribble drive; let them do their job.

    2.) Stop jacking up shots early in the shot clock. Yes, that transition three looks really open, Sasha/Jordan/Derek, but let’s try and get an easier shot, preferably a dunk. Jacking up shots early not only allows the opposing team to run, but it also gets everyone else out of the flow of the offense, and then they start to feel like they ran up the floor for nothing, which is extremely disheartening and really hurts team morale.

    3.) Everyone needs to rebound on every shot; no more leaking out. Yes, Kobe/Trevor/Jordan, those transition dunks make you look really cool, but if you think of it in terms of percentages, giving up a basket has a greater impact on the game than us scoring a basket. Without going into any messy expectation calculations, let’s say we currently have a 4 point lead. It seems fairly logical to me that we should be more concerned with NOT letting them cut the lead to 2 than we should be extending the lead to 6. Now the effect may not be as magnified when its an 18 point lead instead of a 4 point lead, but the value is still there in keeping the lead versus extending it.

    Much as I dislike all the negativity surrounding various aspects of the Lakers game, these are a couple areas where I would like to see improvement. I am especially annoyed when I see Sasha or Jordan helping off a three point shooter, getting burned for 3 points, then staring at Phil Jackson with hands up with a “what, I couldn’t do anything about it” look. It’s time to grind out the kinks and start polishing this bad boy, because it’s about time for the real season to start.

  32. btw, I’m just checking out that SA-OKC box score, and wow, check this out.

    Bruce Bowen, 4 minutes, -11 +/-

    Now that takes some talent. And the Spurs even had a 15 point lead after the 1st quarter. Talk about a prime time win by OKC. They’re gonna be scary in a year or two.

  33. 30. I didn’t see the game, but the OKC is not a good defensive team, so was this one of the nights when the Spurs offense deserts them.

  34. Kurt-That Denver/NJ prediction you made is going exactly as you thought it would

  35. looking at the box score from OKCSAS:

    spurs starters: +22
    Bench: -32

    thunder starters:-38
    Bench: +48

    hmm……

  36. j. d. hastings March 16, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    31- I only actually saw the last quarter and wasn’t paying much attention…

    By quarter the Spurs scored 29, 13, 21 and 13, so that must be the case. Looking at the box score it looks like the bench really let the Spurs down.

    Here’s weirdness from the +/- figures: Every OKC starter had a – stat while every Spur starter was a +. The benches were flipped, with every OKC player positive and every Spur negative. Collison was a game high +18. However, as a whole, OKC’s bench only outscored the Spurs bench 18-13. While this shows the complexity of the +/- numbers, I think it means that the OKC starters had to have been packing the major scoring punch while on the floor with their bench mates… Or that the OKC bench faced the Spurs starters more than the bench…

    This is why I’m not a mathemetician.

  37. j. d. hastings March 16, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Something else- After the first quarter, the score was 29-14, Spurs (in what turned into a 76-78 game). So at least the Lakers aren’t alone in giving up those early leads.

  38. 34. That was just a gimme. The LA to Denver back-to-back is a scheduled loss.

  39. j. d. hastings March 16, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Another cool stat: Last night the phoenix Suns put up as many points as both these teams combined tonight: 154

  40. The Dude Abides March 16, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Excellent post, Kurt. One thing I’d like to add is that Terry yesterday didn’t even need screens to get open for many of his threes and long twos. Whoever picked him up for any single possession simply sagged off him at the first sign of penetration by Kidd, even if no help was needed on Kidd (a guy who doesn’t even want to be a scorer, anyway).

    That’s what really bugged me. I can understand someone Sasha or Jordan’s size getting picked off by a good screen or double screen by the Dallas bigs. But sagging off a knockdown shooter like Terry to provide help on an initiator like Kidd, who was usually being guarded effectively by Trevor anyway? Meh.

    I did notice that when Fish got back in the game, he stayed with Terry pretty well and didn’t sag. I’m not sure what Sasha and Jordan are trying to accomplish when they help on a ballhandler of Kidd’s caliber. They’re not going to strip him, and he’s not going to the hoop anyway because he can’t elevate on his drives over the Laker bigs.

    As for our bench, once Andrew comes back to anchor the low post for 24-28 minutes, he will (a) dominate the other team’s backup center at the offensive end if single coverage, (b) if double coverage, then wide-open jump shots for Sasha, Jordan, and Luke, or wide-open driving lanes for Jordan and Lamar, (c) his shotblocking presence will let our wing defenders stay closer to their men, and (d) his overall defensive presence (rebounding, blocked shots) will result in more fast breaks, more secondary breaks, and more early possession low post 3-foot Bynum specials. If he’s healthy and integrated when the playoffs start, I think we’re looking at a 2001-like postseason run. I’ve thought this ever since LO played so effectively with Pau in the weeks after Drew got hurt.

  41. completely random, but is there an FB&G facebook group?

  42. Late to the party, but I’m with Kwame on this one (partly). I think it’s becoming clear that a 4 guard rotation is not as effective as a 3 guard rotation for the personnel that we have. Phil should view Jordan and Sasha as flexible 3rd-guard options. Against the Spurs and Parker, for example, Jordan would be useful. But against the Jazz I don’t think he should see much PT at all. Provided the increased PT causes Sasha to return to form.

    Darius hit it perfectly when he said Sasha’s conflict is with Ariza and not Farmar. The problem is, Ariza is too valuable to restrict his minutes. Sasha in last year’s form is equally as valuable, he swung more than a couple of games for us with his quick hot shooting. If curbing Jordan’s PT returns Sasha to last year’s form, then it’s worth it. Splitting time between Jordan and Sasha is rendering both of them ineffective. I feel bad for Jordan, but Sasha at his best is more valuable than Jordan at his best. And we need to do what’s necessary to get Sasha to return to form.

  43. -j.d. hastings

    when you look at the box scores for our previous games our +/- have looked much the same with our starters all being in + and the bench all being in – while for the other team its flipped.

    spurs are having the same problem we are their starters are doing well but their bench goes stagnant with mental lapses, and becuase of that for this game it cost the spurs. we’ve been fortunate enough that our starters have excelled during the close game minutes

  44. Wow, Great post and comments from everybody, my head hurts. I hope the opposition is as confused with what we may do in the playoffs as I am now. I mean, what a year; Sasha at PG, Andrew out, LO off the bench then starting again, Luke going back and forth, Ariza starting now, VladRad traded, I could go on…

    Nothing gives a team so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.

  45. In talking about the lakers’ defense, does anyone want to comment about kobe’s utter disinterest in staying anywhere near his man unless his man happens to be an MVP candidate (in which case kobe plays ball denial defense like he’s a walk-on trying to make the team)?

    This ‘I’m like a free safety’ BS is driving me nuts.

    Seriously, please help me out here… I understand – sort of, mostly – the idea behind the SSZ, but how many times is kobe’s man going to have a wide-open look at a 3 while kobe’s somewhere in the paint gambling on a steal or leaking out for an unlikely fast break? I’m not talking about him helping out with a trap, I’m talking about him standing alone in the paint while his man jumps up and down screaming for the ball alone on the weakside for the short 3 or else running to halfcourt in the hopes that a long rebound will result from a shot that hasn’t even been envisioned yet will somehow end up in a long outlet pass and an easy dunk.

    I mean, has he ever watched warm-ups? Even the biggest scrubs look like ray allen or reggie miller if there’s no defender within a couple of yards (possible exception: luke walton).

    The 1st half of the Dallas game was a prime example– again and again, wide open looks for his man. I really don’t understand why Phil puts up with it.

    agree/disagree?

  46. The Dude Abides March 17, 2009 at 12:20 am

    45. I think Kobe plays free safety or lockdown defender depending on who we play. Letting Antoine Wright have open jumpers in the first half isn’t going to kill us. Same thing when we play the Jazz, Kobe just lays off Brewer and dares him to shoot. That’s never really hurt us the past two seasons. Kobe will do whatever he has to on defense to help us win.

  47. Excellent post, although my sense is that the great Lakers teams dating back to Magic and Kareem had the same irritating tendency to take their foot off the throttle versus just extinguishing the competition.

    My gut is that their defense will settle in once the playoffs get going. They bring it in the big games (Portland road excepted), are more road tested, and most notably, win the close games that they too often lost last year.

    Most vexing is the second unit. They have done such a poor job of late, not only in terms of maintaining leads, but also in terms of affirming the inevitability of a Lakers win.

    Sasha and Farmar are in such funk offensively, but Farmar in particular has had his share of mental mistakes and defensive lapses.

    It shortens the time that the first unit, especially Pau, get to spend resting on the bench.

  48. #1 – Hats off, Kurt. Some of the best discussion I’ve read in a while. Gotta love catching the Lakers on 36 hour later rerun after reheating some dirty rice while checking up on FB&G.

    Anyways, we speak of intensity, and I agree with Nick the Great – we have a tendency to to play down to our level of competition. More than anything, I think that is a byproduct of the regular season. Phil, Kobe & Co. are just as eager to bring on the playoffs as us. We know our team is capable of playing lockdown defense, and as Kurt said – the time is now to sharpen the tools.

    Zephid – Awesome post.

    As the season has progressed, I see more and more growth within the triangle offense. I see Kobe seeing more, finding lanes we didn’t have before. I am confident the kinks will be worked out in this next month leading up to the playoffs.

    As someone mentioned, we just need that 20-25 mins from Bynum. As long as he can make an impact on both ends of the floor while he’s out there, I don’t see any team that has much chance in a seven game series. If that is homerism, then find…but I am pretty sure it will prove true.

    Here’s to it, fellas – about time to make some history.

  49. *if that’s homerism, then fine**…sorry, a little late here in the midwest

  50. 45.

    I totally agree with you and I really don’t think there’s much we can do about it. However, if Kobe decides to really play defense in the playoffs, we’ll be just fine…

    46.

    Letting Antoine Wright have open jumpers won’t kill us, but it will allow the opposition to stay in the game, and I believe that’s the main issue we are discussing here. Sure, some players can have more room to shoot than others, but what Kobe is doing most of the time is borderline ridiculous. He doesn’t need to play lockdown D on Brewer, but he needs to play SOME D.

  51. Yes, but … when other teams make their run, invariably it is when the Lakers have gotten lazy/sloppy on offense.

  52. Have the lakers tried to use Kobe and Ariza to deny pierce the ball like they have with Lebron and Wade??

    and if not.. why?

  53. 46

    That’s partly true, but Kobe’s closeout defense in general can be very poor. Instead of running out and getting a hand up, he often just turns around and hopes for a miss.

  54. 53) Ariza was still recovering from his injury during the Finals last year

  55. Kobe sets the tone for the team’s defense and offense, and it seems like once he is on the court he doesn’t totally grasp that yet. Too often he will get caught up in his own personal game, whether that be inappropriate isos on offense, arguing with a ref after a “missed call”, or excessive gambling on defense. He is so talented that he can personally get away with it a lot of the time, probably most of the time; the problem is that the rest of the team tends to follow his lead, and they aren’t talented enough to get away with it.

  56. Fantastic post and insight above. This isn’t some new phenomenon, this team has played the same D all year. They hang their hat on offense and only play just enough D to win (minus the 13 losses). The other contenders (Boston, Cleveland, SA, arguably Orlando) rely on D as their base. Traditionally most contenders play a minimum of above average D. We rely on O and only play D in stretches, when absolutely necessary, regardless of who’s on the floor. That’s fine in the reg season, but can you win a chip like this? I don’t think so. It’s definitely past time to ratchet this thing up. And Bynum alone can’t fix a zero to low lack of defensive effort.

    It’s funny, but it seems like some don’t believe that the D itself is an issue. And as usual, a discussion about Lakers D turns to solely what Kobe isn’t doing. While lazy work from Kobe is a piece of the puzzle, it’s not the source of all our problems.

    I don’t see this being a 48-min defensive team, so my mantra is “Just Be Good Enough on D”.

  57. Very good point exhelodrvr. Kobe is truely the engine that runs this train, both on offense and defense. However, it is also true that Kobe is also the hardest working person on the team and the one who is more than willing to take, not only the game winning shots, but the blame when things don’t go right. Those actions, too, are also what his example is all about.

    I say that consistent defense is all about the coaching staff. Look at Cleveland. Since Mike Brown was hired they have been a defensive team first – regardless of the skills of Lebron James. I would argue that Lebron has gotten better on defense, in part, because of the system he is in, as much as his own private drives.

    The Lakers don’t play defense first because Phil’s orientation is about an offensive system first and defense second.

  58. Whne we talk about deficient defense for the lakers, what exactly are we referring to?

    Last post, Kurt put up the defensive rankings: 6th in the L.

    So are the problems on defense related to rebounding, fg %, points per game, points per possession, or is it just what we see?

    Obviously I am not going to watch Jason Terry launch 7 wide-open threes and then say how great our defense has been. However, what are our problems on defense? Is it effort?

    I clearly remember, during and after Jason Terry’s explosion, some Lakers did a great job of chasing lesser shooters (Wright, Singleton, Kidd) off of threes. Also, the team did a fantastic job pushing Nowitzki out of his favorite spots.

    So I agree with the content of this post, but I would be interested to see the numbers that show what aspects of defense this team needs to improve, especially in recent games.

  59. 59. Effort and focus is part of it, but the one area the Lakers have been weak on all year is defensive rebounding. Even with Drew in the fold and Odom’s play, they are just average at that (17th in the league).

  60. PeanutButterSpread March 17, 2009 at 10:28 am

    I’d say the defense of the “Bench Mob” needs to improve …

    Our starter’s defense has been pretty solid, especially when considering LO and Pau’s help defense completely limited Dirk and Dampier … To me, the Lakers usually do a pretty good job limiting the “star” players on a team. Think their defense on LBJ, Dirk, etc. All really solid efforts by the starters, especially among LO, Pau, Kobe and Trevor.

    I think the weakest defense is probably from our point guard position (take your pick from Jordie or Sasha sometimes even Fish)

    The Laker team defense is pretty good, when the Lakers choose to be, when they feel like talking on defense, helping out, etc like at the start of the season, they were able to shut teams down.

    I think the bench really needs to step it up on both offense and defense.

    Question though, last year Phil often used LO as the anchor for the bench mob during their 2nd quarter run, did he do that against the Mavs? I seem to remember the bench mob gelled pretty well last year when LO was their anchor (not much with Pau). If Phil hasn’t been pairing LO with the bench mob, he might want to start doing that.

  61. The problems with the Laker defense do not quantify well with statistics. It is about player reactions and instincts. We are the most talented team in the league. We are the most athletic big team in the league. Our statistics are going to be good, almost regardless. The real question is what we do when things get dicy with a really good defensive team, where our offense isn’t working as well as we are used to – that’s what happened with Boston in the finals last year.

    Our players don’t seem to have the instincts to alter their play based on the men they are guarding – Sasha bodying up Chris Paul instead of using his height advantage to play off him a bit and deny him driving lanes. That is the type of activity that this discussion is about and that is the mark of actions by a defense first team.

  62. 58 – Thank you Craig. You’ve hit the nail on the head. PJ allows, and at this point I would say foster, this lackadaisical attitude about team defensive intensity. The last 2 seasons, I’ve noticed this and it drives me crazy, because he never allowed this craziness in Chicago or during the Shaq era. My working theory since the Finals is he’s getting softer as he gets older.

    59 – My main problems with stats are they never tell the whole story and they adequately explain things on the defensive side of the house. Kurt, says we’re middle of the road on D rebounding, but that doesn’t really get it. You can’t calculate intensity, awareness, or effort with stats. That’s where we’re lacking.

  63. 58) Craig,
    “However, it is also true that Kobe is also the hardest working person on the team and the one who is more than willing to take, not only the game winning shots, but the blame when things don’t go right.”

    I agree, and he is still the best player in the game, even with the weak areas I noted. But it does lower the ceiling for both himself and the team.

  64. exhelodrvr,
    Kobe has his habits and an enormous ego, so he is going to go off at times regardless. I put most of the blame on Phil and the coaching staff because they are the ones handling the reigns of this team. If their lead ‘horse’ is moving in a direction counter to the one they want the team to move in, it is their responsibility to use those reigns to bring the team back into alignment.

    Since it is their team, I blame them for systemic problems with the defense. The team sure doesn’t lack the talent.

  65. 57) clutch,
    “And as usual, a discussion about Lakers D turns to solely what Kobe isn’t doing.”

    That’s just a little bit of an exaggeration!!

    Most of the defensive weakpoints (i.e. Fisher’s lack of quickness and size, Farmar’s lack of size and experience, Luke’s lack of quickness, Odom’s lack of focus, Gasol’s lack of physicality, Walton’s lack of quickness, Ariza’s lack of experience), can’t, for the most part, be addressed right now. Either they are inherent limitations of the individual, or there is a certain amount of time that will be requred to (hopefully) address the problem.

    However, the reason that Kobe’s defense is frequently discussed as the key is because that is an improvement that could be instantly implemented, and instantly have a noticeable impact (probably 2-3 points added to the point differential, which would be huge).

  66. Craig,
    “If their lead ‘horse’ is moving in a direction counter to the one they want the team to move in, it is their responsibility to use those reigns to bring the team back into alignment.”

    Yes, and I am working under the assumption that they have done their best to do that, and have (wisely) chosen not to make a public issue out of addressing it. (i.e. benching him).

  67. 66 – As usual, I agree with exhelodrvr’s post…seriously, I feel exactly the same about your player assessments.

    And while I don’t disagree about the KB issues individually on D, but I don’t think him alone suddenly not looking at people shoot uncontested Js or not letting guards blow by him will fix our team problems on D. This poor attitude has permeated through the entire team and is bigger than him. I don’t think Kobe can fix it, but the coaching staff & PJ can.

  68. 67, with all respect, the question i’ve gotta ask is: have you seen any evidence to support that assumption? Because from my vantage point, kobe’s been roaming to the same degree pretty much all season. indeed, maybe he *should* be benched in the first half when he pulls that crap.

    as to the criticism that kobe’s D is ‘all that’s discussed’, I echo 66 on this point. look, I’m not a dunce– clearly kobe’s roaming is a poison i prefer over jordan’s more than occasional incompetence or lamar doubling off of a three point shooter onto a terrible post player who has been shut down by pau all game, but I don’t expect a huge improvement by either of these guys, whereas all kobe needs is for phil to tell him to stay on his man, for crissakes!

    I’ll say it again: I think kobe can be a very good on-ball defender and is a terrible off-ball defender, yet somehow, the SSZ/phil give(s) him the freedom to roam around at will, almost invariably accomplishing nothing other than creating an oppty to swing the ball from strong to weak and his man to bury a wide open 3.

  69. You are right. We fans are not going to be privy to any internal issues unless one of the players ‘goes to the press’ and a problem surfaces.

    Gee, I guess we will just have to sit back, enjoy the run, and hope for the best. Sounds like the fans in any other city for any other sport. Surprise!

  70. Clutch made a point earlier about Boston, Cleveland, San Antonio, and (arguably) Orlando being *defensive* teams, while the Lakers are an *offensive* team. I partially agree with that, but it’s more complex than just hanging your hat on one end of the court and riding that horse to victories.

    Phil has consistently (in his tenure with both the Bulls and the Lakers) preached that Offense and Defense are tied together and linked into the overall flow of the game. Offensive execution (spacing, shot selection, etc) lead to better defense as it puts players into positions where they can transition well from one end of the court to the other. The Mavs game was a perfect example of this. When the Mavs went into their zone and we stopped getting good looks and fired up jumper after jumper, those misses fueled the Mavs offense because we could not set our guys and we couldn’t lock in. My point is that Phil (undoubtedly) does not focus on just playing defense without talking big picture and talking about how the team puts itself into position to play that defense.

    Earlier in this thread, I said that I agree that we need to play better defense. But, we are ranked 6th in efficiency. A lot of that is because we are so strong on offense and put ourselves in position to play strong defense my making the other team take the ball out of the basket to start their offense (or are in position to transition well from offense to defense because of our tremendous spacing). Our defensive ranking is also a product of us playing good defense and executing our scheme. I feel like some of us would like us to be a better defensive team only because we don’t play a style that is similar to Boston, Cleveland, San Antonio, or even the Lakers teams of Shaq/Kobe.

    In the end, if there were specific things that I’d like to see us improve on they would be (like Kurt mentioned) defensive rebounding, better on ball defense (where we didn’t allow a player to go by us completely before the help man could rotate to deter a shot), and better recovery to the three point line when we show help with our wings on penetration. But even with these issues, we’re still a pretty good defensive team and do get the stops we need by racheting up our intesity. Can we win by playing like this? I think we can.

  71. Darius,
    Your points are always intelligent, but I do have a question about this one. The problem with this philosophy came up last year, in the finals. When our offense was stymied, our defense went south.

    I agree offense and defense are interrelated. I agree, the triangle has a closer correlation between good offense and good defense – which may be one reason other coaches don’t employ the triangle. However, teams have to be able to ratchet up the defense when the offense is flailing because the one constant is defense and we need to get through the dry spells without ‘giving up the farm’, waiting for our offense to come back. Besides there are likely to be 79-70 games every so often and we need to win some of those.

  72. 69) “have you seen any evidence to support that assumption? Because from my vantage point, kobe’s been roaming to the same degree pretty much all season. indeed, maybe he *should* be benched in the first half when he pulls that crap.”

    No, I haven’t seen any evidence. That’s just an educated guess based on confidence in this coaching staff. They have overachieved with the Lakers roster the past several years; I have a hard time believing that they haven’t made any attempts to correct Kobe’s errors on defense. And I don’t think that benching Kobe is the right way to handle a player like him. Like it or not, the vast majority of superstars are treated differently than their role-playing teammates.

  73. Darius,
    “if there were specific things that I’d like to see us improve on they would be (like Kurt mentioned) defensive rebounding, better on ball defense, and better recovery to the three point line when we show help with our wings on penetration. But even with these issues, we’re still a pretty good defensive team and do get the stops we need by racheting up our intesity. Can we win by playing like this? I think we can.”

    And for a team like the Lakers, it only takes better focus on a handful of plays every game to make a very significant difference. Yes, they can definitely win by playing like this; just less margin for error.

  74. 69-Agreed. One of the best on-ball defenders, but man he gets lost off the ball, and defintley puts the team in scramble mode. Just wish we’d have him on the primary ball handler, if nothing else, it will maintain his interest level on that side of the ball.

  75. Craig,
    You are right on about our offense in the Finals. It’s why, this season, I’ve been calling for better execution in our offensive sets rather than relying (mostly) on the talent of our players. Kobe and Gasol are tremendous offensive players who can create shots for themselves and for teammates just because of their skill level. However, our offense works best when the players cut hard, screen hard, and move the ball. I know that we’re number one in offensive efficiency, but (just like we’re looking at the tweaks we can make to our D) I think we can fine tune some things on offense to make sure that against the top defenses we’re still able to score. Especially against teams that deny post entry, deny the pass to the opposite guard, and then deny the pressure release flash to the FT line by the opposite big. This forces our offense to iniate from the sideline wing rather than from the hub of the Triangle or the middle of the court with the flashing big man. We can be even better on offense and that will help our defense be more consistent.

  76. Ha ha, “Less margin for error” = just good enough D. That’s definitely the hard way.

  77. I don’t want to stop a great discussion, but the Sixers preview is up.