The Los Angeles Lakers are favored to capture their fourth Western Conference championship in as many years, and look to compete for their third NBA championship in a row. And if they reach those peaks, it will be on the back of their defense.
The Lakers have always been known for their precision-based triangle offense, but the addition of free agent Matt Barnes gives the Lakers a defensive element that few teams can boast.
Barnes, Ron Artest, and Kobe Bryant just might be the NBA's best trio of perimeter defenders, and their versatility allows them to impact the game in a variety of ways.
Artest is a former NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and although he doesn't possess the same quickness as when he won the award, he's still one of the more physical defenders in the league.
Size and strength are Artest's best weapons, and it doesn't hurt that his reputation as one of the more unpredictable players in the league gives him an aura of intimidation.
During a road game against the Boston Celtics last season, Artest and Celtics' forward Kevin Garnett became entangled while jawing back and forth after a Lakers' bucket.
Garnett ended up sprawled on the floor and grinning up at Artest who returned Garnett's smirk with his own icy glare.
It was a defining moment for the Lakers, because until then, most of the NBA perceived them to be soft. Artest's rough and physical presence helped change that perception.
Artest is still vulnerable to players who are quicker, but Barnes has more quickness and while he may not be as strong as Artest, he does have quite a bit of power in his 6'7" frame.
Barnes could end up being the Lakers' most significant addition in the last few seasons besides Artest, because he blends seamlessly with Los Angeles' goal to get tougher defensively.
Barnes is equally adept at either wing position, and the Lakers' shouldn't suffer any significant drop-off defensively when Bryant leaves the game.
Speaking of Bryant, Barnes will allow him even more defensive freedom than he experienced last season playing alongside Artest, and he should be available to jump passing lanes more often.
Bryant is one of the most intellectual and instinctive defensive players in the NBA, and with Barnes and Artest backing him up, Bryant should be able to take more gambles in the open court.
Lakers' coach Phil Jackson could even experiment with a three guard line-up with Bryant manning the point and Artest and Barnes on the wings.
Imagine the type of defensive pressure the Lakers could impose with those three players at the front of the attack. Assuming Andrew Bynum is healthy, he stands as a physical deterrent at the rim.
The best thing about the addition of Barnes is he gives the Lakers options on the defensive end that were not present last season, and Jackson will be able to adapt his line-up to different offensive looks.
The Lakers led the the NBA last season in defensive field goal percentage from the three point line, and that is only one aspect of the Lakers' defense that figures to improve this season.
Los Angeles will approach the 2010-11 season bigger, stronger, quicker, and with a defensive mind-set. The quest for a three-peat should be an exciting journey for fans, on both sides of the ball.
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