Mike D'Antoni's L.A. Lakers Game Plan for Beating Every Western Conference Foe
In their quest for an NBA title, the Los Angeles Lakers have encountered a brief detour. By firing Mike Brown and bringing Mike D'Antoni aboard as their new head coach, a reconstructed Laker roster has had to adapt to several different offensive and defensive systems throughout the first month of the season.
Thus far the Lakers have struggled to adjust to D'Antoni's up-tempo system, with superstars like Pau Gasol clamoring for a schematic change to the offense.
In addition to Gasol's struggles, the Lakers' new-look bench has been particularly quiet, placing even more responsibilities on the team's aging starters.
Here is a look at how the Lakers will game-plan for every Western Conference opponent this season under Mike D'Antoni.
Like the Los Angeles Lakers, the Dallas Mavericks have a revamped roster. However, unlike the Lakers, the Mavericks have enlisted the help of role players, not superstars.
The Lakers' first loss of the season came at the hands of the Mavs, who emerged victorious by a score of 99-91. Although they fell to Rick Carlisle's squad early, the Lakers bounced back, cruising by their Western Conference rivals by a score of 115-89 just a few weeks later.
The big key for the Lakers to beating the Mavericks is exploiting the size mismatches in the post. Brandan Wright has exceeded early-season expectations, but Dwight Howard's arsenal of post moves are simply too overwhelming for the former North Carolina Tar Heel.
Elsewhere in the frontcourt, Pau Gasol can take advantage of a serious mismatch with Mavs' forward Elton Brand. Brand has a reputation as a stout post defender, but if Gasol can stretch him out to 8-10 feet to knock down the mid-range jumper that D'Antoni's system has been reliant on, the Lakers could see some real success against Dallas.
It sounds crazy, especially in Mike D'Antoni's system, but to defeat the Denver Nuggets it's imperative that the Lakers slow them down at all costs.
The Nuggets are loaded with athletic wings and speedy guards, so controlling the tempo of the game, ideally in the half court, is a nice way to settle things down.
It will be tough to rely on Kobe Bryant against the Nuggets, because of a matchup with Andre Iguodala and his suffocating defense, so working the ball through other avenues will be a must.
When you think of the half-court offense in Mike D'Antoni's system, you think of an offense that's heavily reliant on the pick-and-roll, which is where Steve Nash will be called upon to run the show.
Once Nash returns from injury, the Lakers will return to elite form, and the court vision of the Canadian point man will help free up looks, not just for Dwight Howard, but for wings like Metta World Peace and Jodie Meeks.
Golden State Warriors
The easiest way to neutralize the Golden State Warriors is to play stingy perimeter defense. With marksmen like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson locked and loaded beyond the arc, the Lakers will need to lean heavily on the defense of Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant to keep these gunners in check.
In fact, under interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff, the Lakers shut down the Warriors' dangerous deep threats.
Limiting the Warriors to just 7-of-25 shooting (28 percent) from three-point range, the Lakers were able to coast past their California counterparts by a score of 101-77.
Keeping with the theme of mismatches on the perimeter, Kobe Bryant will always be an integral offensive component against the Warriors, as they lack aggressive defenders capable of matching Kobe's basketball IQ.
Stopping the Houston Rockets has become a more difficult proposition this season, with guards James Harden and Jeremy Lin running an intriguing and flashy offense in Houston.
As the go-to man in Houston, Harden has established himself as one of the NBA's most potent scorers, one who is deserving of significant attention from opposing defenses.
Harden was fairly successful scoring the ball in a 119-108 loss to the Lakers earlier this season, totaling 20 points on 18 shots (3-of-7 from three).
However, the real reason the Rockets fell to D'Antoni's bunch is that they didn't have enough frontcourt punch to contain Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard (combined 45 points and 24 rebounds).
Rockets' center Omer Asik is one of the NBA's best defensive centers, but the Rockets are desperate for a more physically imposing presence at power forward.
As will often be the case this season, Pau Gasol's production out of the high and low post will be key when going up against smaller, weaker teams in the frontcourt.
Los Angeles Clippers
The battle for supremacy in Los Angeles is quickly becoming one of the league's fiercest rivalries, with superstars worthy of attention on both the Clippers and Lakers.
Although superstars dominate headlines and media attention, there is a clear advantage that the Clippers hold over the Lakers that Mike D'Antoni will need to minimize in order to be competitive with the cross-town rivals.
The Clippers' bench has been superb this season, averaging more than 39.1 points per game thanks to guys like Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe and Matt Barnes.
The Lakers' bench, on the other hand, has been putrid, scoring just over 21 points per game, good for 29th in the NBA.
Production from Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks has been non-existent, although D'Antoni's system should open Jamison for some of those mid-range looks that Pau Gasol has grown tired of.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies have lineups that mirror each other to a certain degree. Both teams have bigs (the Gasol brothers) who can stretch the floor and knock down jumpers, but also feed the post off high-low action with great success.
In addition to the fundamentally sound big men, Dwight Howard and Zach Randolph provide the physicality necessary to create complete frontcourts.
Kobe Bryant edges Rudy Gay in the scoring category, but Gay's elite athleticism alone makes him tough to slow down, even on a bad night.
The key for the Lakers to taking down the Grizzlies (as they've failed to do once this season) is getting switches for Kobe Bryant, so that he doesn't have to work against defensive-stopper Tony Allen all night long.
Allen is an All-NBA defender who makes a living disrupting superstars' grooves. In their one meeting this season, Allen held Bryant to 7-of-23 shooting from the floor, although he would finish with 30 points (13-of-14 from the free-throw line).
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The Minnesota Timberwolves are one of the few teams who can match up with the Los Angeles Lakers in the frontcourt. The physicality of center Nikola Pekovic could be enough to disrupt Dwight Howard, and Kevin Love is capable of handling Pau Gasol.
While containing the league's best rebounder is necessary to defeat the Timberwolves, the Lakers will need to find ways to score other than frequently looking to the post.
The Lakers have a clear advantage in the backcourt, where Kobe Bryant will be matched up against Malcolm Lee or Alexey Shved, although it's possible Andrei Kirilenko would switch off Metta World Peace to defend the 14-time All-Star.
Regardless of who's defending Bryant and World Peace on the wings, one thing is certain: The Lakers will be able to exploit mismatches at will.
A notable trend this season: When the Lakers win, World Peace is converting on 46 percent of his three-point attempts, as opposed to just 28.6 percent in losses.
New Orleans Hornets
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Assuming Anthony Davis is healthy when the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Hornets square off, Mike D' Antoni's game plan should focus heavily on keeping the ball out of Davis' hands when the Lakers are on offense and far away from his hands when they're on defense.
The problem with trying to keep the rock away from Davis is that he's rangy enough to guard out on the perimeter, yet long enough to keep opponents in check in the post.
The Lakers have a significant advantage over the Hornets in terms of pure scoring and overall talent, so matchups with Monty Williams' squad may be a good opportunity for the Lakers to build some chemistry with Steve Nash in the pick-and-pop.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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Mike D'Antoni may not have been the Lakers' coach during the team's 4-1 playoff series loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, but that doesn't mean he won't be hungry for victories over the defending Western Conference champions.
Trying to defend the Thunder really is a "pick your poison" situation, so the Lakers would be better off doubling Kevin Durant and forcing erratic point guard Russell Westbrook to beat them.
Westbrook can often get into hazes where he sees every possession as a one-on-five scenario, often ignoring open rollers off screens and cutters in the lane.
On offense the key for the Lakers will be pounding the rock in the post to Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol and forcing Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka into foul trouble.
It sounds easier in theory than it is in practice, but if the Lakers can get Ibaka to sit for key stretches because of foul trouble, it will relieve them of some stress on the interior.
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The Phoenix Suns are a team trapped in basketball purgatory, although just because they seem without direction doesn't mean they aren't dangerous.
A common theme under Mike D'Antoni, the Lakers struggled to put the Suns away by allowing them to score 102 points on the road earlier this season (the Lakers would win 114-102).
As discussed earlier, D'Antoni's system is reliant on securing more offensive possessions than the opponents, with defense a secondary concern.
In the end, the Lakers don't need to do anything fancy to beat a team like the Suns. All they really need to do is defend capably and force the ball out of Goran Dragic's hands.
Assuming Dragic doesn't tear through the Lakers defense and Michael Beasley doesn't put on a performance reminiscent of his time at Kansas State, there isn't a whole lot, specific to the Suns, that the Lakers need to prepare for.
Portland Trail Blazers
Containing LaMarcus Aldridge will always be a point of emphasis when matching up against the Portland Trail Blazers, but forgetting about the Blazers' triple-threat of perimeter scorers can result in an disappointing outcome for opponents.
In the Lakers' early-season 116-106 loss to the Blazers, Portland shot 45 percent from downtown, thanks to the play of Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews.
However, while Batum and Matthews often fly under the radar, the Blazers have a young point guard who won't be taking anyone by surprise from here on out.
Rookie Damian Lillard has proven to be the same dynamic scorer he was at Weber State, shooting over 43 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc so far this season.
Keeping Lillard contained will be difficult with Steve Nash and a platoon of Chris Duhon and Darius Morris off of the bench, but it will be necessary if the Lakers want to see success against the Blazers.
The Los Angeles Lakers' front line should be salivating every time they see a matchup with the Sacramento Kings on the schedule.
While the team's recent loss to the Kings has raised questions about how Pau Gasol is being used in Mike D'Antoni's system, both Dwight Howard and Gasol should produce at an elite level when they go up against a discombobulated Kings squad.
In the Lakers' loss to the Kings, Gasol and Howard combined for just 15 points on 14 field goal attempts. The number of attempts should be doubled and the scoring output tripled, as there's no reason Kobe Bryant should shoulder the load against such an inferior opponent.
Kobe should be called upon to facilitate for Howard and Gasol, whether it's in the high or low post. Gasol is exponentially more talented than Kings' forward Jason Thompson, and Howard can easily frustrate DeMarcus Cousins if he's given enough opportunities.
San Antonio Spurs
Tim Duncan is an all-time great, perhaps the NBA's greatest power forward ever. Although his résumé screams Hall-of-Famer, Duncan, Boris Diaw, DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter don't exactly comprise the most impressive defensive front in basketball.
The Spurs struggle with interior defense, and emphasizing the one-two punch of Howard and Gasol could be a great way to exploit the Spurs' troubled areas.
What makes Gasol and Howard such a potentially lethal duo is that Gasol's game is suited perfectly for the high post, while Howard can clear out the low block and wear down his defender.
Taking advantage of a thin Spurs' front line is just the beginning of a complex game plan, but it's as good a place to start as any.
As for the backcourt, the Lakers will need to focus heavily on eliminating the Spurs' outside shooting. According to NBA.com, the Spurs converted on 70 percent of their corner three-pointers against the Lakers last season, in addition to the 41 percent they shot from above the break.
The Utah Jazz throw big bodies at opponents in waves, using Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson or Enes Kanter to get most of their damage done.
Because the Jazz always have fresh bigs at the ready, Mike D'Antoni will be forced to call into action backup bigs like Jordan Hill early and often. Hill has proven to be a capable rebounder and decent low-post scorer, although it's his post defense that will be most valuable to D'Antoni and the Lakers moving forward.
However, for all of the talent the Jazz possess on the interior, they seem to be lacking it in the backcourt, particularly on defense.
Kobe Bryant will be able to squash the defensive efforts of Gordon Hayward and Marvin Williams, a trend that bodes well for Metta World Peace and his all-important three-point shooting.