by Daniel Buerge / @danielbuergeLA
After losing to the Phoenix Suns at home on Tuesday night, the Lakers seem, once again, to be a team without an identity. The return of Kobe Bryant might have been a nice distraction from the team’s woes on Sunday against Toronto, but even a far-improved Bryant on Tuesday night couldn’t mask the glaring deficiencies in this Lakers squad. So when the Suns strolled into Staples on Tuesday night and pushed the Lakers around for 46 minutes and 26 seconds (the Lakers held a brief 3-0 lead), there are going to be more questions than answers.
The fact remains that this Los Angeles team, as currently constructed, isn’t capable of playing the level of defense it needs to in order to create stops and give their offense a chance to capitalize on the other end of the court. Phoenix shot 52 percent on Tuesday night, in the Lakers’ home building by the way, and had their way with the L.A. defense throughout the entire fourth quarter.
Here are two stats that you probably don’t want to see if you’re attempting to win games; on Sunday night the Lakers gave up 33 points in the fourth to the Raptors. On Tuesday night, they gave up 35 in the fourth to Phoenix. To make matters worse, Toronto averages just 97.7 ppg, while Phoenix averages 101.2. Giving up a third of a team’s average point total in the fourth quarter isn’t going to get you very far. Especially when you’re giving up these numbers to one team that likely isn’t going to sniff the postseason next spring, and another that’s clinging to playoff life in the West.
But this is the fatal flaw in this year’s version of the Lakers, they just don’t play any defense. And, despite what Mike D’Antoni will tell you, their offense does nothing but make their defense worse. In fact, due to the fact that their offense seems to specialize in long shot attempts, often three-pointers, it results in long rebounds and poor positioning when it comes to transition defense. The Lakers might be averaging 101 ppg, but they’re giving up 103. Even worse, in games they’ve lost, they’ve given up 108 ppg. On the road, 107.2. Six times this season, L.A. has given up 110 points or more.
Per 100 possessions, the Lakers are giving up 102.4 points. That’s not a lot of room for defensive stops.
These are not the trends of a successful team. These are not the trends of a winning team. So, by some kind of transitive property of basketball, it would make sense that the Lakers have a losing record (10-11).
But the biggest issue in Los Angeles is a failure to realize that this is the real problem. Mike D’Antoni, who I have agreed with on a great deal of things so far this season, doesn’t seem to get the hint.
“Our defense is fairly good,” D’Antoni said in a recent press conference.
He went on to talk about the team’s lack of effectiveness defending the paint, stating their horrid post defense as a big issue. He’s tried tinkering with lineups, even inserting Robert Sacre in as a starter in a few recent games in an attempt to solidify the frontline, but that hasn’t stopped teams from getting to the rim willingly against this defense.
Heading into Tuesday night the Lakers were allowing 47.3 points in the paint. The only team that allowed more was the Utah Jazz, who, by the way, have the worst record in the NBA (4-19).
Against Phoenix they allowed 56.
After the game, D’Antoni had an idea for limiting points in the paint—suggesting that in order to limit transition opportunities the team should simply make more of their long jumpers.
Oh. Well, OK then.
To put it simply, as long as the Lakers are this porous defensively, the team won’t be successful overall.
The offense the team has, with or without Kobe, will allow them to beat up on the bottom half of the League. But when facing a team with a better offense, or even a team who may not be as talented offensively but is having a good shooting night, they’re not going to find ways to win other than making more shots. They’re a one-dimensional team and will continue to struggle unless there is further development.
That’s why in a game against Phoenix, who has the 13th ranked offense in the League, the Lakers were unable to keep up. And this trend will continue to be a problem again and again until they’re able to string together consistent and determined defense for an extended period of time.
So, even though Kobe looked much better in his second act than his initial debut, he’s not going to be able to counteract the defensive deficiencies as a whole that the team currently faces. Even if Kobe manages to average over 20 points, shoot a high percentage and limit his turnovers, which he did Tuesday night, he’s still not addressing the team’s biggest problem.