As every coach in every sport will tell you, itâ€™s about getting your own house in order before you start to worry about what the other team will do. So, before we talk Bucks letâ€™s talk Laker defense.
For the first 14 games, the Lakers were giving up 102 points per 100 opponent possessions, good for fifth best in the league.
In the last two games, that number is 123.3.
Thatâ€™s bad. Battlefield Earth bad. Those two games alone plummeted the Lakers from fifth in the league for the season to 16th.
The more important question, heading into a six-game road trip, is: How do you fix it?
Part of this is getting back to basics and working on the rotations â€” the Lakers have just looked lethargic on defense the last couple of games (Rudy T. era lethargic). Phil Jackson needs to crack the whip, or some skulls, or whatever he needs to do to get the team to refocus its defense. But I am going to throw out two more radical suggestions that may help.
1) Start Sasha. Smush has been a great story so far this year, but he has not been playing the same quality of defense in the half court set of late. Teams have figured out he is weak on the high pick and roll (almost always going under) and are now exploiting that. Statistically, when Smush is on the floor other point guards are playing just as well as they did last year against Chucky Atkins, both have an opponents PER of 19.1. To Smushâ€™s credit, PGs are not shooting as well this season (49.6% against Atkins compared to 45.9% against Smush) but compare that to what Sasha has done when matched against PGs â€” an opponents PER of 13.3 and a shooting percentage of 42.4%. Iâ€™m not sure if this works well long term, but the defense needs to be shaken up, and Sasha is shooting the ball well right now so the offense wonâ€™t suffer. If nothing else, it should light a fire under Smush.
2) Play Chris Mihm and Andrew Bynum together some. One thing we can say about when Kwame Brown was in the starting lineup is that having two 7-footers along the baseline helped slow penetration. Not so much anymore, even with Cook getting big minutes. As best I can tell, Bynum and Mihm spent a few minutes together on the floor for the first time last game (they were a total of -3 in that short time). This combo is not going to be great on offense (Kobe and Lamar are going to really have to carry the load) but this should be a good defensive and rebounding pair. And you might want to keep doing it even when Kwame comes back.
If youâ€™re going to pair Mihm and Bynum at all, Milwaukee may be a good place because the Bucks are such a good rebounding team. Four Buck players â€” Jamaal Magloire, Andrew Bogut, Joe Smith and Dan Gadzuric â€” all pull down at least 11.8 rebounds per 40 minutes (each grabbing at least 16% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor), the best rate for a Laker is Bynum at 10.3 (and 14.9%). The Lakers need to crash the boards.
The Lakers suddenly resurgent offense should again find room to work against a team that is 27th in the league in defensive rating (109.6 points per 100 possessions) and allows teams to shoot 49.5% (eFG%) against them. This could be a good game for Smush and Sasha as point guard has been the Bucks weakest defensive position this season.
But the Laker defense will be the key. The Bucks have a pretty average offense (a rating of 106,8, 12th in the league) although, not surprisingly, they do get a lot of offensive rebounds and put backs. They also have Michael Redd, who is leading the team in scoring and shooting a very good 52.5% (eFG%) from the field. Also watch out for point guard Maurice Williams, who is second on the team in scoring and shooting just as well as Redd percentage wise, and is a +11.2 per 48 minutes (the other guy to watch is UCLA guy Gadzuric, who is +12.7).
The Lakers have the Bucks tonight then head to even colder climates for a game against Toronto tomorrow. They need to get at least a split to start the road trip, and I think we know itâ€™s a lot easier to win at the start (particularly since the Lakers have beaten the Bucks eight straight times). Count me in the group that thinks the Bucks are not as good as their 9-6 record, this is a game the Lakers can win. If they play defense.