How Lakers Will Be Exposed by Steve Nash's Defense

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2012

Nash's defense at its best.
Nash's defense at its best.Elsa/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers didn't need an extra superstar or two in the 2012 playoffs—they needed a stopper who could control the likes of Ty Lawson and Russell Westbrook.

Steve Nash is not that stopper, nor has he ever been.

This isn't a commentary on his age, and it has no bearing on the contributions he's made on the offensive end of the floor (which have been self-evidently spectacular). Nash has never been a good defender.

Lakers fan will be tempted into believing that Dwight Howard's impact on the defensive end will be so complete as to compensate for Nash's shortcomings. They'll tell themselves that a reinvigorated Metta World Peace similarly will improve upon L.A.'s 15th-ranked defense.

Optimistic though they may be, there's also a lot of truth in these sentiments.

Just not enough.

Westbrook averaged nearly 26 points per game against the Lakers, including a 37-point explosion in an all-important Game 4 victory.

Howard will make things difficult for the lightning-quick slasher, but he won't shut him down. Westbrook's arsenal of floaters, mid-range jumpers and explosive finishing ability mean the Lakers' famed new shot-blocker won't be gifted an endless series of soft layups.

Denver Nuggets point guard Lawson averaged 19 points and six assists in the first round against the Lakers.

There's no question he was one of the principal reasons the series went seven games, and there's no question he'll see similar if not improved results against Nash. Lawson and Westbrook have the kind of quickness and strength that give the legendary former Sun fits.

Tony Parker and Chris Paul will give him trouble, too.

In other words, every team that stands in the way of Los Angeles' return to the NBA Finals is ideally positioned to exploit the lone vulnerability that really could do in the Lakers.

They couldn't defend the point last season, and they won't be able to defend the point this season.

Yes, some point guards will be foolish enough to directly attack the basket and test their luck against Howard. Unfortunately, those point guards don't play for Western Conference contenders.

The point guards facing off against Nash will beat him off the dribble and find themselves either looking at open mid-range jumpers or in position to dish the ball if L.A.'s interior defender jumps out to the wing and top of the key.

Those point guards also will get to any spot they want to, unimpeded by any kind of perimeter resistance.

In theory, the Lakers could put Kobe Bryant on opposing point guards, but that's the last thing they'll want to do with their aging, go-to scorer. Having Kobe expend that kind of energy on the defensive end will be a last resort.

If you really have any doubt about the importance of defensive stoppers on the perimeter, just take a quick survey of the most successful teams in recent history.

You might not think much of Mario Chalmers' overall talent, but he's a good defender. It doesn't hurt that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have been know to check elite floor generals such as Derrick Rose.

Speaking of Rose, he too is an excellent defender in his own right. So too are Rajon Rondo and Westbrook.

For their part, the San Antonio Spurs supplement Parker's work with defensive specialists such as Danny Green.

Conversely, there's a reason Nash's best teams in Dallas and Phoenix came up short year after year in the postseason. His teams were prolific scoring teams, but they were even better at letting the other team score.

It didn't help that Dirk Nowitzki and Amar'e Stoudemire were as defensively inviting as men their size can be, but it wouldn't be fair to place the blame at their feet alone.

One way or the other, the ability to stop penetration is key, even when there's a shot-blocker lurking. Howard may be the most dominant defender in the league, but he's not the only seven-footer who can block shots.

All-Star point guards don't become All-Star point guards by giving those kind of seven-footers too many freebies.

Those are the ones the Lakers will have to worry about. The good news is that Los Angeles will be better positioned to inflate the score at the other end of the floor thanks to Nash as well as new additions Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks.

Just don't be surprised if all that scoring starts to feel more like necessity than luxury.