The Los Angeles Lakers defense is much different from last season:
One unintended consequence of jettisoning Dwight Howard and Javale McGee is that the Lakers guards must play much better on-ball defense in order to keep their man from scoring inside the paint.
Last season, Lakers guards can aggressively pressure the ball with the knowledge either Howard, McGee, or Anthony Davis would back them up. The Lakers led the league in blocked shots per game last season.
With Howard and McGee gone and with AD battling various injuries this season, that level of rim protection is not as strong. The Lakers guards must have much better footwork and positioning as a result of the weakened interior defense.
How Los Angeles Lakers guards fared last game vs Chicago:
Chicago Bulls guard Zach Lavine made a statement in the Staples Center against the Lakers guards. Lavine, the former UCLA star, scored 38 points and dished out 6 assists. Chicago’s center Wendell Carter Jr scored 23 points in only 25 minutes of action.
Lavine torched the Lakers defense so many times that people thought the Burning Man Festival was supposed to be held at the Staples Center this year. Talen Horton-Tucker, Montrezl Harrell, and LeBron James were all in the no man’s land of help defense on this possession. It would have made no difference if they had been at Coachella instead.
Zach Lavine had plenty of daylight on his way to the basket. The general rule of thumb is to not let the opposing player have a clear line of sight to the basket once he crosses the free-throw line extended. Here is what each of the three Lakers players in help position needed to do to put a damper on Lavine’s drive.
THT needed to either deny the passing lane to Coby White or to cut off the drive. He did neither on this play. His best option would have been to step up to guard Lavine as he was a greater threat to score immediately.
Harrell tried to take a charge in vain. He needed to step up to cut off Lavine while simultaneously defending the lob. Zero steps would not be enough. Two would have been too many. Taking one step up would have put him in the sweet spot.
LeBron needed to slide over to cover Harrell’s man under the basket. If he had done so, maybe he could have had his signature chase-down block from the weak side.
How Houston’s duo compares to Chicago’s:
No offense to Lavine and Carter Jr, but James Harden and Christian Wood are much better. Orlando played much better help defense in that previous highlight clip but Houston still finished the alley-oop with ease.
The Houston Rockets have something to prove. James Harden is a once-in-a-generation offensive talent. The fact Harden is still this dominant even though he is clearly out of shape is a testament to his incredible skill level.
But these Lakers defenders are in shape. They will be ready!