Los Angeles Lakers: Denver’s 4 adjustments for Game 2

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) – Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) – Los Angeles Lakers /

Adjustment #2: change how they defend screens

There are three generally accepted ways to defend pick-and-rolls on defense: 1) dropping back to prevent the drive (as the Lakers normally do); 2) hedging (which forces the opposing ball-handler to dribble away from the basket); 3) switching screens (as Houston always does).

Denver is getting a bit too enthusiastic with option #2. They are trying to hedge screens before the screen even begins. Hence why this lob was open.

(Yes. AD pushed Jokic to the floor. That is a foul on AD.)

I take that back. Millsap throwing up his hands like he just didn’t care was why Howard was so open. Even so, Denver has to adjust on how they are defending screens. Denver’s big men would often “pre-hedge” their man, meaning they would prematurely jump out ahead of their man. The purpose of this unusual defensive strategy is to deny either a post-entry pass or be in a good position to hedge the pick-and-roll.

Bad idea. Hedging or trapping screens is the best strategy against guards who can shoot the ball from distance (i.e. Damian Lillard). The Lakers are not a great outside shooting team, especially off the dribble. The focus needs to be taking away the lob threat first, then close out on shooters.

The Lakers took advantage of Denver’s “pre-hedging” for easy lobs. They made Rajon Rondo and LeBron James look like John Elway and Peyton Manning (towards the beginning of his Denver Broncos tenure, not the end). Especially when there was non-existent ball pressure on any of those lobs. (Denver can start by at least pressuring the ball.)

Or why LeBron James made a highlight reel dunk look effortless. Credit to Alex Caruso for a perfect pass between two Denver defenders, hitting LeBron in perfect stride.

Denver did a few things wrong on that possession. Michael Porter Jr. failed to recover to Caruso in time. Jerami Grant, while waving on Porter Jr to get back on Caruso, probably should have left Caruso open to deny the pass to LeBron. Grant had to pick between two bad options. He chose the one ending with LeBron dunking the ball, not Caruso shooting it.

True, the other three defenders should have helped. In technical basketball terms, they could have “tagged” LeBron on the roll on the high side instead of low side. That means a third defender should have picked James up further away from the basket (high side) as opposed to at the rim (low side). Extremely difficult given Caruso and LeBron were the only Lakers on the right side.

Even if they had executed the scheme correctly, Denver’s strategy is clearly not working. I would urge Denver adopt a more traditional drop-back scheme against the Lakers. The worst that can happen is the Lakers continue to shoot over 40% from three-point range in this series.

Dropping back on screens would at least have taken away LeBron’s highlight reel dunk. If they keep trying to hedge screens, this year’s Los Angeles Lakers will go down as the real Lob City.

If they are not already.