Where Does The LA Lakers Defense Rank Among The NBA's Top Teams?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer ISeptember 8, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 15:  Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics tries to hold on to the ball under pressure from Kobe Bryant #24, Derek Fisher #2 and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the first half of Game Six of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 15, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Defense was the theme of the 2010 NBA Playoffs, and for those teams wishing to contend for 2011's championship, it would be in their best interests to recognize the value in that logic.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic, and the Boston Celtics were the NBA's top teams for much of the 2009-10 regular season, and it should come as no surprise that all four were among the league's best defensive teams.

Teams that have strong defensive roots usually thrive in the postseason because the slower pace generally favors whichever team is more disciplined in a half-court set.

Man-to-man defense and strong rebounding are critical because transition opportunities are limited in the NBA postseason, and offenses tend to run at a more deliberate pace.

The Phoenix Suns were the only offensively-minded team able to reach the conference finals last season, and next season may see the league's best teams shift even further to the defensive end.

To be fair, teams like the Lakers, Miami Heat, and the Magic will still be able to dazzle you on the offensive end, but each team's title hopes rest on the ability of their defensive units to get stops.

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The defending champion Lakers were arguably the postseason's top defensive team, as they held opponents below 37 percent shooting from the field and led all playoff teams in rebounding.

The Lakers' defense was consistently good all regular season, but in the postseason their energy level was elevated, and their focus and attention was heightened.

Ron Artest met the expectations of Lakers' fans as he proved to be a physical nightmare to the opposition, and the combination of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum were dominant on the boards.

Kobe Bryant and Bynum were forced to play through injuries from the opening round against Oklahoma City, but the Lakers were able to persevere because their defense was usually good, even when their shots were not falling.

The Finals series between the Lakers was a perfect illustration of playoff basketball because the defense was physical and fierce throughout, and a high premium was placed on scoring.

The Lakers' Game 7 victory was something only Lakers' fans and true basketball purists can really appreciate, but it served as an example of what it may take to win a championship next season.

Los Angeles will be seeking their third consecutive NBA title, and the fourth three-peat of coach Phil Jackson's career. In terms of defense, the Lakers could be much better than they were last season.

The Lakers added Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, and Theo Ratliff during the NBA's free agency period, and each player represents an upgrade to the team's defense.

At 6'3", Blake becomes the Lakers' biggest option at the point guard position, and he brings a reputation as a steady defensive player who is more disciplined than the departed Jordan Farmar.

Barnes gives the Lakers another long, rangy player in the mold of Artest, who is versatile enough to guard opponents on the perimeter or in the paint.

Ratliff has seen his skills diminish due to age, but he still carries a career average of two blocks per game, and he should be able to provide brief periods of relief for Bynum and Gasol.

This may be one of the deepest teams of the Jackson era, and it has the potential to be one of the best defensive teams he has ever coached.

But how do the Lakers compare to the NBA's other superior defensive teams?

Miami, Boston, and Orlando are probably the Lakers' biggest obstacles on the road to a three-peat, and all three teams should once again rank among the NBA's top defensive teams.

Miami has the luxury of two of the better help defenders in the game in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and each player's individual defense should benefit from their pairing.

The Heat has the potential to dominate the perimeter defensively, but even though Miami has depth in the paint there are still questions concerning their ability to defend the post.

Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem are Miami's best defensive post options outside of Chris Bosh, and at 6'9" and 6'8" respectively, both players are a little undersized compared to potential opponents.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas has good size, but his limited range of motion makes him susceptible to penetration on the perimeter, and he doesn't have the physical strength to contend in the paint. 

The advantage Miami has on the perimeter could outweigh their issues in the post, but only if someone else is able to step up and help Bosh control rebounding in the paint.

Eastern Conference runner-up Orlando has a defense which is built around the athleticism and sheer strength of center Dwight Howard in the paint.

Howard controls the defensive tempo for Orlando by dominating on the boards and serving as a deterrent to opponents who choose to attack the rim.

One of Howard's calling cards is his ferocious dunks, but there are really no superior individual defenders on Orlando's roster outside of Howard.

Vince Carter, Mikel Pietrus, and Jameer Nelson are all competent if not spectacular defenders, but the Magic flourish on the defensive end due to their ability to perform as a cohesive unit.

The players seem to buy into coach Stan van Gundy's help philosophy, and it doesn't hurt to have a player like Howard as insurance in case someone does happen to get beat off the dribble.

Boston was the Finals' runner-up to the Lakers in 2010, and their team during the Doc Rivers era has been defined by defense.

Kevin Garnett has played the part of emotional catalyst for Boston, but the Celtics' defense is led by point guard Rajon Rondo, who is arguably the NBA's top defensive lead guard.

Rondo thrives in defensive transition or in a half-court set, and he has excellent strength, quickness, and is an above-average rebounder to boot.

Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have slowed down but both are still capable of playing tough defense in stretches, and the reserve unit was bolstered with the arrival of Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal, and Delonte West.

Boston's main concern will be defensive rebounding, which is ironic since most good defensive teams are also superior rebounding teams.

The Celtics will likely have to average more than the sub-40 rebounds they did last postseason to have another shot at reaching the Finals next year.

The addition of the O'Neals should help, but then again, there is no guarantee that Kendrick Perkins will be healthy next season, and his presence in the paint could be crucial.

The Lakers are not without defensive flaws—the ability to defend quicker point guards remains a concern, and I'm not sure if they will ever completely figure out the pick-and-roll.

But, Los Angeles has found a way to overcome those flaws the past two seasons, and there is a good chance there defense will be even harder to penetrate in 2010-11.

Defense should once again be the primary component of next season's NBA champion, and the Lakers may not have the NBA's best defensive unit, but recent playoff history has shown they belong in the conversation.

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