Lakers' Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson mindful of Phoenix's screen and roll offense
It had become the point of emphasis during last week's meeting where the Lakers aired out several concerns. And it's something that will be most pressing tonight when the Lakers visit Phoenix.
That issue, of course, involves defending screen and rolls. It's an area Lakers Coach Phil Jackson acknowledged the team has struggled perfecting, though he noted after practice Thursday "that we feel like we're improving as a basketball team." That most recently includes Andrew Bynum's effort on defending screen and rolls in Tuesday's win against Toronto.
It won't get any easier, though, when the Lakers play the Suns, which feature Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire running screen and rolls to perfection. The New York Times' Jonathan Abrams recently cited a five-year analysis by Synergy Sports Technology that said the league's use of the pick and roll increased from 15.6% in the 2004-05 season to 18.6% last season. The same study also listed the league's players that use it the most. Who topped the list? Nash, who shows in the video below just how effective he runs the screen and roll.
The video above shows the Suns' ability to instantly take advantage of any defensive breakdown. Stoudemire set a screen on Rockets' guard Aaron Brooks just as Nash accelerated. Houston forward Chuck Hayes switched to lock in on Nash, but Stoudemire immediately rolled to the basket as Brooks nearly tripped over himself. Nash's simple bounce pass to Stoudemire put him in a position for an easy dunk as Houston scrambled to help inside.
The Lakers are no strangers to those exploits. In a 118-103 loss Dec. 28 to Phoenix, Nash buried the Lakers with 13 assists and making three of the Suns' 12 three-pointers. The Lakers largely struggled with rotations that game and sorely missed the presence of forward Ron Artest, who was in the middle of a five-game absence because of a concussion he suffered Christmas night after the Lakers' loss to Cleveland. Artest will be back for this one, but his defense largely centers on neutralizing a the opponent's top scorer, meaning it'll be more up to the team's rotations to limit any breakdowns on the screen and roll. The main key, Jackson said, involves not just centering on Nash, but the the other options on the floor.
"Phoenix is a tough team to play defense against," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. "Screen-roll, they run a great deal of it. They run it differently than other teams in terms of having four shooters space the floor and guys that can pick and pop, so it will be different than even what we're used to usually defending."