Los Angeles Lakers: Four Solutions to Their Defensive Woes
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Earlier this week, Jerry West said the Los Angeles Lakers' age is prohibiting them from playing defense at a consistently successful rate.
With 10 players on the roster age 30 or older, the Lakers are the second-oldest team in the NBA.
To add stale popcorn to a boring movie, players like Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom have all racked up way-beyond-routine minutes, having reached the Finals in each of the past three seasons.
And, as if that annoying five-year-old kid sitting behind you is constantly kicking your seat, the team has increased its average age 1.1 years from last season.
Regardless of all these negative implications, the Lakers are posting productive defensive numbers entering Sunday's showdown with the Boston Celtics:
Opponent points per game: 96.3 (10th)
Opponent field goal percentage: .439 (4th)
Opponent field 3-point percentage: .340 (7th)
Opponent points per shot: 1.15 (t-2nd)
Still, L.A. has improvements to make on the defensive end. Here are five solutions that will help the Lakers solidify their defense as they make a run for their third consecutive title.
Solution #1: Avoid Transition Defense Situations
High-quality shots will help the Lakers avoid transition defense situations.
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On paper the Lakers are not a shabby transition defense team—they're surrendering 15 fast-break points per game—but as the season wears on, so too will L.A.'s legs.
To limit transition defense situations, the Lakers must execute the triangle, triple-post offense. The offense, if utilized correctly, churns out high-quality shots, which prevent the opposing team from running the ball down L.A.'s throat.
Additionally, taking what the defense gives them and making smart decisions allow for fewer turnovers, which in turn offers minimal fast-break opportunities for their opponent.
The Lakers are at their strongest defensively when they force teams to execute their offense in the half-court set, because L.A.'s length and size are unparalleled to most opponents. Moreover, the Lakers' perimeter defense is among the NBA's best with Ron Artest, Bryant and Matt Barnes, when he is healthy.
Solution #2: Get Andrew Bynum Engaged in the Game
An engaged Andrew Bynum strengthens the Lakers' defense.
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When Andrew Bynum is healthy, he is among the NBA's best big men on both ends of the court.
One of Bynum's problems, however, is his susceptibility to lose focus on the floor if he is not consistently involved in the game.
Since Bynum returned from injury on Dec. 14, he has been playing arguably the best basketball of his career, partly because the Lakers have been getting him engaged in the game early and often.
To date, he is averaging 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 23 games, but what is more impressive is his impact on L.A.'s defense.
Opposing teams are scoring 94 points per game with Bynum in a Purple and Gold uniform this season, almost five points less than the Lakers were giving up in his absence.
Solution #3: A Healthy Matt Barnes
Matt Barnes is a vital defensive piece to the Lakers' championship puzzle.
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The injury bug bites most teams, like the Lakers, who have suffered some modest wounds this season.
Matt Barnes, notably, tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee on Jan. 7 against the New Orleans Hornets and is not projected to return until early March.
In 37 games this season, Barnes has averaged seven points, five rebounds and two assists while shooting 47 percent in 21 minutes. But his totals don't tell the entire story of the eight-year swingman's impact as a Lakers reserve.
Barnes is one of L.A.'s better perimeter defenders and—this may surprise some people—rebounders. He provides instant energy off the bench, especially for the aging Kobe Bryant and the foul-susceptible Ron Artest.
In short, Barnes' health is just as important of a piece to the Lakers' championship puzzle as any of the other bench players.
Solution #4: Home-Court Advantage Throughout the Playoffs
Pau Gasol had a tough time against the Celtics in the 2008 Finals.
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Every team wants home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, but the Lakers—at least defensively speaking—might want it a little more.
In 24 games at home this season, L.A. is yielding 90 points per game, eight points less than the team has given up in 23 road games.
As it currently stands, the Lakers are second in the Western Conference standings, seven games behind the San Antonio Spurs. Thus, L.A. would have home-court advantage in the first and second rounds, but not in the Western Conference Finals if the Lakers see the Spurs, and not in the Finals if they face the Celtics.
The last time L.A. won a playoff series on the road was in 2004, and the last time the team played the Celtics in the Finals without home-court advantage was in 2008, when the Lakers were spanked.