With an experienced (old) roster and an offensive genius at the helm, the Los Angeles Lakers have all of the ingredients needed to make a horrendous defensive club.
And those defensive deficiencies were on full display during the team's 126-114 loss to the Denver Nuggets on December 26.
With a starting backcourt edging closer to retirement and the shell of the player formerly known as Pau Gasol occupying one-half of the Lakers' interior, this isn't a club just suffering through some defensive lapses.
These woes will plague this club for the 2012-13 season's duration.
They rank 24th in points allowed per game, affording their opposition 100.6 points per game. Opposing clubs are connecting on 44.6 percent of their field-goal attempts (17th in the league).
There are other teams who struggle defensively but balance the challenge with a gambling mindset that translates into open looks and points off turnovers.
That isn't the case for these Lakers.
D'Antoni's team has forced just 13.7 turnovers per game (25th-fewest in the NBA). And it's cost them easy buckets, as they're scoring just 10.4 fast-break points per game (according to teamrankings.com).
With the top of the Western Conference standings overflowing with youthful, athletic clubs, the Lakers can't afford to keep playing to their age level.
It's something that superstar guard Kobe Bryant felt like the team did in that loss to the Nuggets:
Kobe on Lakers' loss: "Just seemed like we had a wheel stuck in the mud. We played old. They played with a lot of energy."— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) December 27, 2012
That lack of energetic play is something that has contributed to the team's 14-15 start.
When healthy and engaged, the Lakers can hang with (and defeat) any team in the NBA.
But they're trotting out four players at least 32 years old for 32-plus minutes per game. And even that number's a bit skewed, considering Nash's injury-shortened 16-minute effort has heavily impacted his five game average.
So that energy level will require some D'Antoni genius to stay positive over the stretch of an 82-game regular season (and beyond if the Lakers can recover from their rough start and claim a postseason spot in the league's deeper conference).
Then again, there's another factor working against this club's level of game-long engagement.
With both Bryant and Steve Nash in the backcourt, at least one of them will be forced to exert heavy effort on the defensive end.
And that fact did not go unnoticed by Nuggets coach George Karl:
Both Karl and Iguodala hinted at trying to wear out Kobe at both ends, with the impact coming on the defensive end for Bryant.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 27, 2012
The Lakers offense certainly received a jolt with Nash's return.
But their already-struggling defense took on a major problem as well. And it's one that lacks a clear solution for D'Antoni and his players.
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