Monday, March 7, 2011

Lakers' Defense Is Key to Three Peat

Kobe is getting older, but he is still
getting it done on the defensive end.
The Lakers' defense has been on display on their 7 game winning streak.

The Lakers have struggled from time to time so far this season, seemingly losing motivation and lacking concentration while coasting through the regular season.  Most of their lapses have been on the defensive end, where they have lacked any sort of intensity even in seemingly important games against the rival Celtics and the Heat.  They have also allowed mediocre teams to score absurd amounts against them, such as in their ugly loss to the Bobcats a few weeks ago.

They played so poorly Jerry West publicly criticized them, calling them too old to compete on defense.  Other ex Lakers such as Magic Johnson also questioned their toughness and mind set, mostly centering these criticisms on their Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

Now, however, it seems as though the Lakers have turned the corner after the all-star break and have now won 7 straight, topped off with a monster win against the Spurs on Sunday.  The Lakers have not been hot offensively, only averaging 95 points per game over the last 5 games.  This shows that the reason for this string of victories comes from a new unified effort on the defensive end.  Kobe has maintained his consistently high level of effort all year long, and now it seems as though his attitude has caught on to other teammates.  During their 7 game streak they are holding their opponents to 87 points per game.

The combination of size and talent
have been giving opposing teams fits.
Andrew Bynum has become an anchor in the middle over this streak.  He seems to have finally regained the explosion he was lacking as he returned from knee surgery.  Bynum is once again showing the potential to be a franchise cornerstone and the center position.  Nothing has been able to get past him, he has pulled down 17 rebounds in each of his last two games.  On top of that, he is averaging 4 blocks per game in his last four games.

When Bynum is putting up numbers like that defensively anything he adds offensively is a bonus.  He has not been demanding the ball, or acting up set when the offense is not run through him, instead he is working with what he gets.  He capitalizes on lobs off of pick and rolls and put backs on the offensive boards.  He has also improved his free throw shooting, during the streak he has made 20 of 25 attempts.  This is way up from his 68% season average.  Andrew seems to be content in his roll as defensive enforcer.

Ron Artest is coming to life as well.  He is still struggling offensively, but the effort he showed during the match up against the Spurs shows how effective he can still be when his head is in the game.  Over the year Artest has struggled and has not been the defensive player that his reputation suggests he should be.  He has not showed the enthusiasm that he had during the Lakers' title run in the 09-10 season.  After  all-star weekend Artest has come to life.

The Lakers' bench has been
'heads' above their opponents.
The Lakers' bench has also been contributing to the defensive intensity.  Shannon Brown has been playing great, he can defend quicker point guards which makes up for Derek Fishers slowing feet.  Odom has been consistently crashing the boards all year, and his versatility allows him to guard 3 positions depending on match ups.  The bench also gets another boost with the return of the scrappy defender Matt Barnes.  With Barnes' return the Lakers lose little to no production when Artest comes out of the game.

When Artest and Bynum are on top of their games and the bench is contributing defensively, the Lakers make it hard to get anything going on offense.  The combination of length they have with 2 seven footers on the court at all times and Artest defending the other teams best perimeter player has been dominating opponents.  Artest and Bynum's play has allowed Kobe to gamble and cheat a little bit more in the passing lanes and get easy fast break points.  The length inside allows guards to close out on three point shooters and push them into the lane, where the two seven footers eat them alive.

The Lakers are going on their tradition post-all-star run to push themselves to the top of the Western Conference.  If they maintain this level of play then it will be nearly impossible for opponents to beat them.  If they play on the defensive end like they did in San Antonio on Sunday then they will be able to beat any team in the league in a seven game series.  The Lakers look poised to complete Phil Jackson's fourth three peat.

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