Breaking Down the LA Lakers' Go-to Plays

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Breaking Down the LA Lakers' Go-to Plays
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are key facilitators in the Lakers' Horns offense.

The Los Angeles Lakers finished the season ranked eighth in offensive efficiency, scoring almost 106 points per 100 possessions.

A lot of their offensive success came out of the popular "Horns" set. That's when the two big men are posted at either elbow with the two wings lurking in the corners as the point guard brings the ball up.

Horns is one the most basic offensive sets in basketball. Just about every team in the NBA uses it at some point to initiate action. Not many are as prosperous with it as the Lakers are though.

Here are the Lakers getting into the Horns formation. (Photo courtesy of Silverscreenandroll.com)

The Purple and Gold create numerous looks out of the Horns set, using heavy screening action to generate quality shots. According to MySynergySports, the Lakers were tops in the league in points per possession off screens.

Let's take a closer look at some of their favorite variations out of Horns.

1. Backdoor Lob to Dwight Howard

The Lakers utilize Dwight Howard's athleticism to devastating effect by occasionally running back-screens for him to catch lobs.

This play begins with Steve Nash entering the ball to Pau Gasol (or sometimes Kobe Bryant or even Metta World Peace) at one elbow.

Nash then curls around Gasol and sets a screen in the lane for the wing in the weak-side corner. This screen is just a decoy, employed to empty out Howard's side of the court and take away a potential help defender.

With the defense beginning to scramble, Nash sets another screen, this time in the back of the man defending Howard.

Howard then rolls free to the rim to receive the lob.

Here's how it looks:

Backdoor lob plays for Dwight Howard

 

2. 4-5 Pick-and-Roll with Howard and Gasol

Howard's athleticism and Gasol's versatility as both a pinpoint passer and deadly scorer makes for an unconventionally fearsome pick-and-roll.

On such a play, Nash will enter the ball to Gasol at the elbow and space out to a wing.

With the two wing players already spread to the corners, Gasol and Howard have the entire middle of the floor below the three-point line to work with. That means that there's essentially no chance for help defenders to make an impact on the play unless they leave their man completely.

Gasol dribbles towards Howard who ambles over to set a screen for him. It's like your everyday pick-and-roll, except power forwards are wholly unused to defending the ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations.

The confusion between the two defenders who are put in a situation they're not prepared for creates an advantage for the Lakers to exploit. If both defenders stay with Gasol, he makes the easy lob to Howard for the slam.

If the defense sags off Gasol to protect the rim, Pau can pull up for an easy foul-line jumper.

Here's how it looks:

4-5 pick-and-roll for Gasol jump shots
4-5 pick-and-roll for Howard baskets

 

3. Stagger Screen for Catch-and-Shoot

Another variation out of Horns is a "flex" action designed to get a shooter an open jump shot.

Again, Nash will enter the ball to Gasol. This time he cuts diagonally across the floor to set a screen for a wing in the corner (The Lakers got Kobe Bryant a lot of open looks off this action, but in the playoffs it will be for either Metta World Peace or Jodie Meeks).

The wing has two options. If his defender tries to cheat the screen, he can cut hard along the baseline looking for a layup.

Most defenders, however, are not so gullible and are taught to force the play outside. In that case, the shooter will use Nash's screen and then get a second one from Howard coming down from the elbow to create an open look from the wing.

Here's how it looks:

Staggered screens for open jumpers.

 

4. Flare Screen for Steve Nash

In all the actions described so far, Steve Nash has been used only as the initiator and an off-ball screener

This last play is designed to take advantage of the defense assuming that's what Nash will do.

After entering the ball to the elbow, Nash makes his usual cut towards the corner. His defender anticipates the screen coming for the man in the corner and sags off to cover the ensuing baseline cut.

When Nash senses this, he quickly breaks off his cut and gets a flare screen from the big at the other elbow. That gets him open for a quick jumper.

Here's how it looks:

Flare screen to free up Steve Nash

 

With Kobe Bryant out and Steve Nash at less than 100 percent for the playoffs, expect the Lakers to use the Horns set a lot more to run their offense through Pau Gasol facilitating from the elbow.

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