Lakers' poor perimeter defense contributes to New Orleans' hot outside shooting
The Lakers coaching staff will have plenty of film to dissect and plenty of notebooks to fill regarding the team's defensive breakdowns in its 108-100 loss Monday to the New Orleans Hornets. You can concentrate on the team's poor interior D, its poor pick-and-roll defense and its poor tendency to properly mark outside shooters. You can really just take you pick, but where to prioritize?
There was point guard Chris Paul (15 points, 13 assists) already looking at full form in his fourth game since missing 25 because of torn cartilage in his left knee. There was forward David West (20 points) cracking the Lakers' flimsy interior, surprising considering West has been largely ineffective in the previous matchups against the Lakers this season as well as in 2009 and 2008. Yet, the most egregious part of the Lakers' defense entailed allowing the Hornets to shoot 10 of 23 from three-point range, including three treys each from Marcus Thornton (18 points) and James Posey (17 points)
New Orleans ranks seventh in the league in three-point percentage (36.4%) so it's not surprising the Hornets shot so well. What is surprising, however, is how wide open the Lakers left them on the outside, partly because of poor screen-and-roll defense and partly because of poor communication. It also appeared New Orleans' hot hand propelled the Lakers to try to match them at their own gain, not utilizing the post as much as they had at the beginning of the game despite the fact Pau Gasol had 26 points on 11 of 21 shooting. Instead, the Lakers attempted 29 three-points and made only seven of them, including a one of eight clip from forward Ron Artest. Below is a breakdown on how New Orleans took advantage of the Lakers' poor D on the perimeter.
First quarter, 11:45 - 11:40
The Lakers start the game off like they've normally started off - with a turnover! Lakers forward Lamar Odom tried feeding an entry pass on the far side to Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, but Odom lobbed the pass short. That allowed Hornets guard Morris Peterson to deflect the ball, which soon landed in Thornton's hands. Peterson immediately sprinted down near side of the court, while Lamar Odom, Bryant and Derek Fisher rushed back on D. However, those three players established themselves near centerfield to limit the penetration from Thornton up top. After Thornton passed to Peterson on near side behind the perimeter, Odom rushed to contest the shot. But Peterson sank the shot, giving New Orleans an early 3-0 lead.
First quarter, 4:52 - 4:45
As Paul brought the ball past the timeline, New Orleans center Emeka Okafor set a downscreen on the far side for two purposes. One, the screen allowed West to cut up top toward the far side of the perimeter. Two, the pick helped Thornton flash toward the near side of the perimeter. Bryant effectively switched to West, but Ron Artest got entangled on the pick and then tried to mark West. The Hornets swung the ball around the perimeter with quick passes from West to Paul to Thornton, who knocked down an open three-pointer. New Orleans led 15-14 after the sequence.
First quarter, 1:26 - 1:20
West's high screen on Shannon Brown gave Paul enough time to drive the right lane, as Odom struggled to catch up on the switch. Gasol helped double Paul in the lane to deny baseline penetration, but the Paul's slim quick 6-foot-0, 175-pound frame allowed him to brush past Gasol down the baseline. Lakers guard Jordan Farmar stepped in the paint to stifle Paul, but that left Darren Collison wide open on the corner. Paul kicked the ball out to Collison, whose three-pointer gave New Orleans a 23-21 lead.
Second quarter, 11:53 - 11:38West set another high screen at the top of the key on Brown, causing Odom to switch on Paul while he manned the point. After Paul passed the ball to forward Sean Marks on the nearside, Marks fed West on the near post. Odom rushed inside to help on Marks and called for someone to mark on Paul. But no one did. West kicked the ball out to Paul at the top of the key, and his three-pointer gave the Hornets a 30-22 lead. The score marked New Orlean's biggest lead of the game and capped off a 13-1 run.
Second quarter, 10:14 - 10:04
Another screen and roll is all that's needed to throw off the Lakers' defense. West's screen on Brown causes Odom to switch again on Paul by the left block, but Brown continues to try marking him as he penetrates on the near side. That creates a trickle effect. Artest fills the gap and guards West at the left block, leaving forward James Posey open on the far perimeter. Paul fires a pass to Posey, and Farmar races from the far corner to mark Posey. But that leaves Collison open. When he gets the ball, Gasol races out to the contest the shot but it still goes in. New Orleans leads 33-22.
Second quarter, 2:25 - 2:15
Thornton ran toward the near baseline and flashed up top to the key, but Artest continued to mark him after receiving a pass from Paul. West set a high screen on Bryant by the near side, and Posey cut from the nearside corner to above the perimeter. Odom and Bryant stuck on West by the left block, but Bryant immediately swarmed Posey as soon as he received a pass from Thornton. Artest, however, sagged off Thornton after he made the pass and New Orleans made Artest pay. Posey passed the ball back up to top to Thornton, who drilled a 25-foot three-pointer to give the Hornets a 46-36 lead.
Third quarter, 6:09 - 5:58
Hey, at least the Lakers didn't get beat on a screen-and-roll. This time, Thornton's near-corner three-pointer happened because of the Lakers' poor transition D. Bryant appeared to have a good look at the basket, but Okafor blocked the shot. West picked up the ball, and pushed it to Paul, who raced past the timeline. The Hornets had a three-on-one break with Peterson on the far end and Thornton on the near wing. Paul dished the ball to Peterson, but Lakers guard Derek Fisher denied the pass. Although Paul grabbed the loose ball, the stop gave enough time for Artest and Gasol to get back on defense. But the Lakers' D all jumbled in the paint, leaving the Peterson and Thornton wide open on the wings. Paul soon passed to Thornton, who nailed a three-pointer for the 61-56 lead.
Fourth quarter, 11:34 - 11:18
With Paul manning the point on the far end of the court, West set a screen on Brown. D.J. Mbenga switched on Brown, but Brown didn't stay with West and instead pursued Paul as he dribbled near the far corner. Meanwhile, Farmar had marked Collison, who cut across the baseline to settle behind the near corner. With Paul operating the offense from the far corner, Farmar stayed inside in case he'd be needed for help. Paul threw the ball to Collison, and Farmar reacted in time to mark him. But Collison's pump fake threw Farmar off. Bryant, who manned the centerfield position, contested what appeared to be Collison's shot. But Collison fired a pass mid-air to Posey at the top of the key. He was left wide open, and the successful trey gave New Orleans a
Fourth quarter, 2:25 - 2:18
All it took was a little screen and roll action to disrupt the Lakers. What a surprise. Posey set a pick on Fisher at the top, and it appeared pretty clear that the spacing made it conducive for Fisher to stay with Paul. Artest left Posey wide open at the top of the key. And his three-pointer gave New Orleans a 96-86 lead.
What this means
Though the Lakers rank seventh in total team defense (allowing 96.85 points per game), that statistic points more to the team's length and their rebounding abilities, a mark the team leads the NBA in with an average clip of 44.45 boards per game. The Lakers, however, have largely been ineffective at defending the pick-and-roll this season and they've been largely inconsistent with communicating to ensure proper rotations and reads. Surprisingly, some of those defensive lapses Monday fell down to Artest, something that doesn't usually happen given his relentless and disciplined nature in not losing his man.
Many of the plays described above, however, reveal that one small lapse throws the entire team off and leads to one huge chain reaction. All of the Lakers in those plays actually did a good job in trying to make up for those mistakes, but they always came within a second or two after the fact. That's something that could happen faster if there's more outward communication on the floor, rather than basing a teammate's play just on assumptions. With only eight games remaining in the regular season, I don't think this is something the Lakers will magically sharpen by the time the playoffs begin. But the team can better be aware of each other's potential mistakes and be ready to cover for them.
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Photo: Hornets point guard Chris Paul drives between Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and center Pau Gasol in the second half Monday night. Credit: Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire.