If there is one area of alarming concern in the early stages of this season for the Los Angeles Lakers it is their defense or lack thereof. Sunday night’s 121-116 loss to the Phoenix Suns has exposed the Lake Show like Pee Wee Herman in an adult cinema.
The defensive intensity that willed them to victory in Game 7 against the Celtics has disappeared in the first month of the NBA season. Gone like Sasha Vujacic’s playing time with only occasional moments of inspired play, this team must recommit to playing D.
Stu Lantz called it in the first quarter when he noted that it’s a bad sign when you’re dominating every aspect of the game yet still have a single digit lead. That ominous statement set the tone for the entire night as the Lakers did everything right on offense and even played good enough defense save for one minor detail – they didn’t defend the perimeter.
How this could happen is both stunning and baffling. It’s stunnaffling!
Phoenix has the inside game of Wang Zhizhi. You know before the opening tip what their MO is. They like to push the tempo, exploit matchups and create open looks for players camping out behind the arc.
In near record setting fashion, Phoenix hit 22 threes on 40 attempts. Do the math, that’s 55%. Never mind that the Lakers grabbed everything that came off the glass. Who cares that Kobe Bryant had a 2K type of night (25, 9 and 14)? Forget about Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom combining for 50 and 28. None of that matters when you’re not closing down on spot up shooters.
Yes, the big talking point is till going to be LO’s tech that was unfairly called late in game just as it seemed the Lakers were about to turn the corner. We knew this rule would rear its ugly head and it’s better to have this happen now then in June.
That still doesn’t excuse the Lakers from not doing anything to ensure someone like…oh…I don’t know…Hedo Turkoglu from bombing a long range three and ending any hopes of victory. The Turkish Jordan was only 5 of 7 from deep. Nothing to be concerned with when compared to Jason Richardson going 7 of 10.
Here is what is most alarming. The Lakers are taking the night off on the defensive end or are simply not concerning themselves with key elements defensively. Elements like communication, paying attention and playing with intensity.
Only three times this season have the Lakers held opponents below 100 points. While some of that can be attributed to just how efficient the Lake Show’s offense has been most falls into the category of simply not committing the same effort on the other end of the court. Not having Andrew Bynum is surely a symptom of what has plagued the Lakers early on. There is no inside presence to deter penetration guards and the perimeter defenders are having to sag in order to help.
With three road games coming up this week it will be a chance for this team to unite and develop a defensive identity. What has happened the last two games in Denver and at home to Phoenix is a developing issue that must be addressed now before it becomes a recurring problem later.
Give the Suns credit. They were on fire last night. But that doesn’t mean the Lakers lackluster perimeter defense wasn’t stoking those flames.