L.A. Dialing up Defensively
As the Lakers try to deprogram themselves from the triangle offense and adapt to new coach Mike Brown's system, it's no secret that things haven't much resembled "Showtime" during the team's 10-5 start.
This was pretty evident in Monday night's ugly 73-70 victory over defending champion Dallas -- sealed by a Derek Fisher three-pointer in the final seconds -- because L.A. really struggled on offense until a 27-point final period.
But before the season even began, Brown pledged that if his players played defense like he wanted, they'd be in every game, with a fair chance to win in the end, and that's how many games, including the most recent, have played out.
Allow us some numbers:
Through the first 15 contests, 10 of them wins, the Lakers rank as the third best team in the league in field goal percentage against, holding opponents to 40.9 percent shooting. Teams are shooting 30 percent from three against L.A., the fifth lowest in the NBA, and are even struggling to make free throws against L.A., converting only 71.6 percent (*random). Only four teams have a better assist ratio than L.A.'s +2.47, and teams are scoring 89.40 points per game against the Lakers, the fifth lowest in the league, even if that number is skewed as L.A. plays at a below-average pace, and scores just the 19th most points in the league (93.27).
In terms of defensive efficiency, which takes things like pace, turnovers and rebounding rate into account, the Lakers are tied for fourth in the NBA, according to ESPN.com's John Hollinger.
"The guys have picked up on the concepts pretty well, and they understand what our priorities are on the defensive end of the floor," Brown said after Tuesday's practice. "I applaud my guys for trying to defend the right way … seeing those guys give the effort they are giving is fun to watch, and it has helped us a lot, especially when it comes to ugly, tight games."
More specifically, coach?
"We shrink the floor, we want the paint to look crowded, we try not to give up middle drives because our help comes from the baseline side and we give multiple effort and contest to rebound," Brown explained. "We're starting to do that throughout the 24 seconds, instead of just giving it on the pick and roll and then stopping and watching."
Brown likes the fact that if his team does not score, it can still win games. He's confident that the offense will come around, that Kobe Bryant won't have to – or feel compelled to – provide so much of the offense from the perimeter, but while everyone is still learning the system, he knows that elite defense will result in wins.
Speaking of learning the system … things are still so new that Brown just put three new plays in on Sunday that the team tried to execute, to varying degrees of success, against Dallas on Monday.
"I'm still trying to feel some things out with our guys, and then I changed the rotation with our second unit last night," Brown concluded. "We're still searching a little bit. But if we defend, we're going to give ourselves a chance."
The Lakers will certainly need their elite defense on a two-game road trip through Florida, as Miami and Orlando rank among the league's best in both scoring (1 and 7) and field goal percentage (1 and 6). While L.A. has handled its business at home, winning nine straight since the last-minute loss on Christmas Day, it has managed just one road win in five attempts thus far.
Thursday's contest at Miami will be a TNT exclusive, while Friday's will air on KCAL-9; both games can be heard on the team's flagship station, 710 ESPN.