Los Angeles Lakers guards Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash will recognized as two of the greatest players to ever man their respective positions once they finally retire, but their historical standing doesn't mean much to the Lakers right now.
The Oklahoma City Thunder sent the Lakers to their sixth consecutive defeat in an impressive 116-101 beatdown on the Lakers' home court on Friday night.
The defeat illustrated how wide the chasm is between the defending Western Conference champions and the Lakers, and it also offered a few clues why there is little chance of the Lakers closing that gap anytime soon.
An inferior bench, injuries and a lack of athleticism are just a few of the issues plaguing the Lakers, but their porous defense is a fundamental flaw that head coach Mike D'Antoni seems to have no idea how to correct.
And it doesn't help that the two players most responsible for making the Lakers go are also at the root of their defensive problems.
Bryant and Nash may not be the NBA's worst defensive starting backcourt, but they are certainly in the running, and their breakdowns on the perimeter have gotten so bad that they border on comical.
Against the Thunder, Nash provided no resistance to perimeter penetration regardless of who he was guarding, and while Bryant still excels in moments at on-ball defense, he looks lost when it comes to switching on defensive rotations and playing through screens.
There were moments against the Thunder when Bryant was double-screened, and instead of fighting through he simply stood and watched the flight of the ball.
That's bad, but Nash's inability to slow the progress of the ball is worse because it puts pressure on the rest of the Lakers almost immediately after a change of possession. And for a team missing Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, that means a plethora of uncontested shots at the rim.
More troubling and ironic for the Lakers is the fact that in order for them to ultimately be successful they will need Kobe's scoring and Nash's playmaking ability, but their problems on defense may cancel out the benefits of their offensive skills.
To be fair, the Lakers' issues on defense run much deeper than Bryant and Nash, especially when you consider that D'Antoni has no concept or clue about defensive strategies. But Bryant and Nash are on the front lines of the team's struggles and any improvement will begin and end with them.
The Lakers have little chance of qualifying for the postseason anyway, but they have zero chance unless their team defense improves dramatically.
Nash and Bryant don't have to become great defensive players or even very good ones, but they do have to prove they care.
Bryant and Nash can do nothing to reverse the fast approach of time, but some of their issues can be summed up by a lack of desire and focus, and maybe by simply at least pretending like they care about the defensive end.
I'm sure that is a challenge when playing for a coach who may or may not practice defense, but what better way for the Lakers to show they really understand the importance of the concept than by their most defensively-challenged super stars taking the lead?
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