Now, it is a sad reminder of how far the Lakers have fallen. The Lakers have an opportunity to prove the critics wrong on Christmas Day against the Brooklyn Nets.
The Lakers are on the hot seat after giving up 138 points to the San Antonio Spurs. San Antonio reserve forward Keita Bates-Diop scored a career-high 30 points in only 27 minutes of action.
Bates-Diop’s performance was not a fluke. NBA players are the best basketball players on the planet by a wide margin! Anybody in the league can score 30 points under the right opportunity.
But how Bates-Diop got these points is simply unacceptable! The Lakers made several basic defensive mistakes throughout the game that would drive anybody crazy!
- Not pressuring the ball
- Jogging back on defense
- Leaving shooters wide open
- Turning their back to their man while playing help defense
- Failing to box out the player closest to the basket
Lakers interim coach David Fizdale needs to start benching guys for making these kinds of mistakes! These are not mistakes that can be corrected in film sessions, nor can they be explained away by a lack of team chemistry or personnel issues.
These mistakes are entirely within the Lakers’ control! They look like a team not willing to put in the effort necessary to compete at an NBA level.
Their defensive rating (ranked 11th) is fool’s gold. Opponents have shot an uncharacteristically low field goal percentage all season long. Once their opponents start shooting at their normal levels, the Lakers will end up with one of the worst defenses in NBA history.
All the film sessions and vows to change are not going to matter if the Lakers keep displaying bad defensive habits. What the Lakers have said and what they have done are entirely different.
If the Lakers have a chance to make a deep playoff run this season, they need to start by making a statement against a Brooklyn Nets squad missing Kevin Durant. This is a winnable game for the Lakers. They have enough offensive talent to outscore a shorthanded Brooklyn squad.
But the defense needs to step up! Here is the key for the Lakers to resurrect their moribund defense against Brooklyn.
The key is for the Los Angeles Lakers to pressure James Harden relentlessly
Brooklyn stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, both currently in the health and safety protocols, will likely not suit up for Brooklyn against the Lakers on Christmas Day. Brooklyn’s offense will probably only feature James Harden as the primary scorer and facilitator.
Harden has long played at a very methodical pace when he engineers Brooklyn’s spread pick-and-roll attack. He will often force the switch – and then slowly pick apart the defense until either he or his teammate gets an optimal shot attempt.
The Lakers must force Harden to make a quick decision. They did this successfully in their playoff series against the Houston Rockets two season ago. The Lakers exploited the shaky Harden-Westbrook pairing on Houston to their own benefit.
The key was to quickly get the ball out of Harden’s hands and force Westbrook to take outside shots. Against Houston, the Lakers could funnel the ball towards Westbrook.
The Lakers will not be able to do that against Brooklyn, whose sharpshooting guard Patty Mills cannot be left open for one single second on the court. Nevertheless, the Lakers can still wear down Harden even if they do not double-team him like they did in the Houston series.
Furthermore, the Lakers must not concede the switch off the pick-and-roll so quickly. The Lakers are 25th in points in the paint allowed per game. These switches (e.g. switching Isaiah Thomas onto an opposing big man) are killing the Lakers’ ability to protect the rim.
But even when they don’t switch prematurely, they have to start flooding the paint with help defenders. The Lakers’ weak side guards need to “help-the-helper” by bumping the roll man as opposed to standing in no man’s land.
Lakers big men Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan must also pack the paint and loudly communicate defensive assignments. Brooklyn center Nic Claxton is not a threat to score outside of the paint so they can rotate between blitzing Harden and dropping way back.
Moreover, Howard and Jordan have 12 combined fouls to lay the smackdown on Harden and any other Brooklyn player who dare enters the paint with the ball. No matter what, Harden must see multiple Lakers jerseys swarming him whenever he gets near the basket.
Even for Harden, it is tough to face ball pressure while not being in peak condition. This is his first game in over two weeks. He just got cleared from the NBA’s health and safety protocols in time for the Christmas Day showdown. He will likely be out of game shape.
Furthermore, Brooklyn’s whole team will be out of shape for the Lakers game. Their last game was a week ago! Brooklyn Head Coach Steve Nash even hinted that his team will have conditioning issues due to the time off.
"“We just do the best we can. We got a lot of guys coming off an extended break. Nobody’s in great condition so we have to manage the group, try to be as competitive as possible and at the same time, be careful,” Nash said. “Guys coming out and playing a game after an absence like this is tricky. We’ll do what we can. A lot of these decisions are still to be made before the game, during the game, as the game goes on so we just have to be very fluid, adaptable and take it as a great opportunity.”"
The Lakers should take Nash’s comments as a sign that blood is in the water. The Lakers need to hound Harden (1st in turnovers per game!) into rushed shots and turnovers.
As the game goes on, Harden’s lack of conditioning will become apparent if the Lakers continue to put the pressure on the ball. They have enough firepower to rotate guys on Harden as the game progresses. Even Westbrook can be coaxed into pressuring his former teammate.
But at the end of the day, all the talk in the world does not matter if the Lakers do not put in the effort needed to compete on defense.
The Lakers will make a statement against Brooklyn on Christmas Day. The question is, what kind of statement are they going to make?