Can the Lakers Reach the NBA Finals with a Defense-Less Approach?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer INovember 28, 2016

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 22:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with teammates Pau Gasol  #16, Steve Nash #10, and Darius Morris #1 in the final seconds of overtime after they secured their victory over the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on December 22, 2012 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers immediately got better with Steve Nash's return on Saturday night, and the team's ability to get a 118-115 win over the Golden State Warriors in spite of Dwight Howard's foul trouble and Kobe Bryant's 41 shots from the field is proof of that.

Nash kept the Lakers offense in a rhythm regardless of who was on the floor, and even though Bryant's shot total was only five fewer than the 46 he took in his memorable 81-point outburst, most of his shot attempts came within the flow of the offense.

After missing 24 games, Nash provided a glimpse of the offensive juggernaut the Lakers can become under his steady hand, but keep in mind the Warriors did score 115 points of their own, and guard Jarrett Jack may have had one of the best games of his career with 29 points and 11 assists.

Most came at the expense of Nash.

If that's not enough, fellow point guard Stephen Curry scored 20 points as well, and Klay Thompson chipped in with 18 points.

If you're keeping count, that's a combined 67 points from the Warriors' perimeter players, which illustrates a very different type of issue surrounding Nash's return.

The Lakers' perimeter defense wasn't very good when Nash was out with an injury, but his return might possibly make their overall defense even worse.

Jack is a decent player, but he's not a star. Unfortunately for the Lakers, most of the other point guards they will have to conquer if they hope to reach the NBA Finals are.

The top two teams in the West feature two of the league's best point guards in Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, and the No. 3 San Antonio Spurs have a pretty good one of their own in Tony Parker.

Notice a theme?

The Lakers' most pressing concern going forward may be their poor perimeter defense, and each of the three top teams in the West excel at point guard play.

What's more troubling is even if head coach Mike D'Antoni understood anything about defense (he doesn't) it wouldn't really matter, because Nash is not that concerned with defense.

There is nothing anyone can do that will make Nash a stronger defensive player at this stage of his career, but that doesn't mean all is lost for the Lakers.

Perimeter defense has been an issue for the Lakers since at least 2008, but the upgrade that Nash provides on offense means the Lakers don't have to be a great defensive team all of the time.

Nash nearly led the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals based nearly on the strength of their offense alone, and while this Lakers team has yet to achieve that level of offensive efficiency, their defense may already be better.

And as Howard's health improves, so will the Lakers defense.

It's doubtful that anyone will ever call the Lakers defense great this season, but it will get better, and combined with a high-scoring, efficient offense, that could be enough.

The Lakers don't need to be consistently great on defense to reach the NBA Finals, but they must be able to play great defense in spurts and at particular moments, which is just what Howard was designed for.

The Lakers will prove they can be successful by scoring 100-plus points on a nightly basis with Nash leading the way, but the real test—upon which the Lakers' playoff aspirations hinge—will be proving they can get crucial stops on the defensive end when it matters most.