The key to winning a basketball game is simple: just make sure that your team has more points than the other when the final buzzer goes off. However, in order to make sure the offense is superior, strong defense is essential and in the case of the Los Angeles Lakers, how they perform when they don't have the ball is going to determine how well they do in the 2012-13 season.
With three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard playing center, there is really no reason that the team shouldn't be a defensive power house all year long. Thus, coach Mike Brown needs to establish a standard that sees the Lakers just excel on the defensive side.
Hold Opponents to No More Than 92 PPG
Ninety-two may seem like an out-of-reach number, but consider this. The Miami Heat only allowed 92.5 points per game last season, and they went on to win the NBA Finals. More importantly, they were able to shut down their opponents without a truly dominant center, with most of the work at the 5 being done by Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony.
Now, let's look at the Lakers' defensive stats from their last two championship seasons. They allowed 99.3 points per game in 2009 and 97 points per game in 2010. During this time, the team's center was Andrew Bynum, who was sent to the Philadelphia 76ers as part of the Howard trade.
Bynum is a talented young center, but let's be honest. He is injury prone, has attitude issues and is no Dwight Howard. He can do a decent job of scoring and pull down rebounds, but that's about it.
Howard, on the other hand, is a complete and utter beast in the paint and is just so big and long at 6'11", 265 pounds. He has averaged 18.4 points, 13 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game for his career whilst shooting 58 percent from the floor. The man practically lives under the basket.
Thus, with his size helping the team in the middle and Kobe Bryant being a pest on the wing, it's perfectly feasible for the Lakers to limit the opposition's offense to a mere 92 a game.
Hold Opponents to 41 percent FG Shooting
The Lakers are fortunate in that they have two of the best defensive players in the league in Howard and Bryant. Howard can take care of the maintenance under the basket while Bryant creates mismatches and forces players to take low-percentage shots. That said, this defensive combination has the potential to spell doom for any team that plays the Lakers.
Keep in mind, the teams that held their opponent to the lowest field goal percentage last season were the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls, with both teams allowing 42 percent field goal shooting. Miami allowed their opponents to shoot 43 percent from the floor, but most of their defense came from the likes of LeBron James and Mario Chalmers on the wing.
Boston and Chicago, on the other hand, had true centers working the inside and relied on everyone to shoulder the load on defense. Given how the Lakers have some fine defenders in Howard, Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, there's going to be good defense practically everywhere when Los Angeles doesn't have the ball.
Yet, it's going to mean nothing unless everybody does their part. Howard and Gasol need to share duties under the basket while World Peace must stay on the wing and cover his man as Bryant creates a mismatch. All it takes is for one wheel to fall off, and the team's defense could be sunk.
Thus, Mike Brown needs to instill a mantra all season long: there is no such thing as too much defense. The Lakers need to be able to score points, yes, but being 110 percent focused on defense is more important. In doing so, it could become near impossible for other teams to score points against them.
Force At Least 15 Turnovers Per Game
Here is a defensive area in which the Lakers absolutely must improve if they are to seriously contend for a title in 2012-13. The team finished 14th out of 30 in team defense last year, which could be worse, but did practically nothing in terms of forcing turnovers. In fact, they finished dead last in the NBA with just more than 11 turnovers forced per game.
Simply put, that number is unacceptable. The Lakers are one of the best and most experienced teams in the NBA and now that Dwight Howard is playing center, there is no reason for so little turnovers to take place. If anything, the team should be forcing at least 15 per game.
Fifteen may seem like a lot, but the Lakers can do it. Bryant and World Peace are great on the wing, and Howard can do plenty in terms of swatting away shots and coming up with a steal here and there. The fact is that Los Angeles has all the tools to be a great defensive team, and there's no point in wasting them.
The only way that the Lakers could still win a championship without forcing turnovers is to just shoot the lights out, which could very well happen now that Steve Nash is the starting point guard. Yet, Mike Brown doesn't employ a fast-paced offense on each and every possession, so that's not going to happen. Kobe & Company will have to bring home the win the old fashioned way with some good old fashioned defense, and that means forcing lots of turnovers no matter who the other team is.