Los Angeles Lakers Weekly: The ‘On/Off’ Defensive Switch

It didn’t seem plausible that the start of the 2013-14 regular season for the Los Angeles Lakers could look even worse than what transpired in the first five games last year.  One could argue it has reached a new level of horrendous to begin this season.

OK, it’s not that bad and to the point where a coach is set to be fired, but it’s still as painful as watching the 2012 NFL replacement referees trying to figure out a call, or even put on a headset.

That may still be a bit too harsh, but all of this just speaks volume as to how disgusting the Lakers’ defense has been in the first five games of the season.  Already in Week 2, the Lakers have surrendered more than 115  points in three games.

Just how did Los Angeles fare in their two games on Nov. 3 and Nov. 5?  As we have become accustomed to with this team, the main takeaways from the 1-1 split include a bag of mixed emotions.

Nov. 3 vs. Atlanta Hawks — Win (105-103)

This was a battle between two evenly-matched teams that will quite possibly be  in the same boat come playoff time.  Sunday’s win for the Lakers gave the fans a positive experience, as it was their late-game defense that saved the win after giving up a 20-point lead in the second half.  One of the stories of the night was Kyle Korver, as he shot 6-for-6 from 3-point territory and brought the Hawks back into the game late in the fourth.  Arguably Atlanta’s best player, Jeff Teague, struggled from the field and shot only 7-for-18 for the game.

Pau Gasol

Pau Gasol put forth a great defensive effort late in the game against Atlanta, blocking Kyle Korver’s potential game-tying bucket. Photo Credit: Bridget Samuels, Flickr.com

The key standouts in this game were obviously how close these teams battled in most categories.  The rebounding margin was back and forth the whole night and the Lakers got the edge with 53 to Atlanta’s 52.  Assists also went to the Lakers, but just by one (27 to 26) and turnovers were surprisingly mild for both teams (LAL – 13, ATL – 11).  The defensive effort for the Lakers towards the end of the game was exactly where it needs to be the rest of the year.  While they did allow Atlanta to score 27 in the fourth quarter, they limited the Hawks to just one shot on nearly every possession down the stretch, as Jordan Hill played extremely aggressive on the boards, crashing the glass and making life difficult for Al Horford.

Chris Kaman played his usual underrated basketball and continues to get limited appreciation.  Shooting 5-for-7 from the field and scoring 10 points, Kaman has done his job off the bench and Mike D’Antoni is eventually going to be forced to play him longer, as he should.

The free throw margin was ultimately the difference on Sunday, with the Lakers having the clear advantage that allowed them to hold on for the win.  If Atlanta connects on more than 53.8 percent of their free throws (14-for-26), Staples Center wouldn’t have been celebrating a 2-2 record at the time.

Nov. 5 at Dallas Mavericks — Loss (123-104)

Everyone should think twice before saying they are looking forward to another Lakers road game.  In no way, shape, or form should any team give up 123 points to Dallas when their longtime superstar, Dirk Nowitzki only takes nine shots and scores 11 points.

But then we realize the reason the Mavericks are going to be contending for a seventh or eighth seed in the Western Conference:  sensational scorer Monta Ellis.

Monta Ellis

The Kobe-less Lakers were tormented by Monta Ellis’ 30 points on Tuesday. (NBA.com photo)

Ellis was on a mission throughout the whole game, getting started early in the first half and finishing with an efficient 11-for-14 shooting night to collect 30 points.  Ellis is now seventh in the league in scoring at 25.0 points per game and also managed to dish 11 assists and shoot perfect from the free throw line.

D’Antoni’s biggest letdown for this game, however, came from the perimeter defense in general.  Sophomore Jae Crowder decided to take advantage of the lack of Lakers discipline and knocked down seven of his nine field goals for the game, which included four beyond the arc.

Who do the Lakers think they are, honestly?  A team that made it a goal to prove doubters wrong about the “12th” place finish in the standings surely can’t hope to just pick and choose when to play defense.

Defense

noun

1. The action of defending from or resisting attack

I hate to break it to people, but Los Angeles is doing exactly the opposite at this point in the season.  Through the first five games, the Lakers rank 29th overall in points allowed, giving up 109.0 points per game.  Nevertheless, D’Antoni may be getting his wish with the team ranking 11th in scoring at 100.8 points per game and seventh in rebounding with 45.0 per game.

In the “Pace” statistic, the Lakers are currently third in the league, which tells us that this team is running with the best of them.  The problem is that most of the players’ energy is being invested in offense and you tend to see guys give up on the other end of the floor.  With the Mavericks looking to be that team that can steal the Lakers’ spot in the playoffs and the Minnesota Timberwolves playing team basketball with Kevin Love healthy, Los Angeles can’t be playing this poorly and unbalanced.

Next Up:

The Lakers travel to Houston and will play the Rockets on Thursday, Nov. 7.  Houston, currently at 4-1, was probably the team that Kobe Bryant had circled on his calender for this season.  Instead of showing Dwight Howard “how to be a champion,” it seems as if he’ll need to help D’Antoni figure out how to stop James Harden from having a career night on Thursday.

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  • Michael Dunlap

    I really hope the Lakers put it together for your sanity, Shane. Tonight at the Rockets won’t be pretty. Actually, I’m rooting for Kobe to get back so we can see what this team really is. Hard to gauge when you’re missing your best player.

    • Anthony Young

      Part of me feels this team will keep it within 10 points tonight, simply because playing awful in two straight games like that doesn’t seem possible!

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