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Lakers' new defensive scheme paying off during recent winning streak

January 11, 2011 |  9:10 am

After one too many poor Laker defensive performances where the team appeared exposed on screen and rolls, help defense, closeouts, transition defense, you name it, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and assistant coach Chuck Person added a few tweaks to a defensive scheme that has since yielded tangible results.

It started modestly enough with the Lakers' 108-83 win Jan. 5 over the Detroit Pistons, forcing them into 19 turnovers, protected the basket by yielding only 40 points in the paint and holding the Pistons to a three-of-13 mark from three-point range. The effort reached new heights in the Lakers' 109-87 victory Sunday over the New York Knicks, where they held the league's top scoring team (108 points per contest) to 36% shooting. And considering the Lakers (27-11) on Tuesday match up with Cleveland (8-29), the league's fifth worst offensive team, the effort should continue to bring results.

"We're figuring out the defensive system," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. "We never really had a system. We've always read and reacted to each other. But I think putting in the system will help us down the road and help us be better. We're just learning."

So what is it the Lakers are exactly learning?

"You wouldn't understand so I appreciate it," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson playfully chided a reporter when asked what specific changes the team's new defensive scheme brings. "I don't mean to demean you like that, but I think it's a little beyond...."

"Yes you do," a reporter chimed in.

"You think I do?" Jackson asked grinning.

Moments later, Jackson outlined to a small group of reporters what the difference has entailed.

The guard goes underneath their teammate and over the top of the pick. What happens in that regard is now you have a big guy rolling to the basket and it's got to be picked up by somebody," Jackson said. "On the wing, we're staying consistent with being able to send picks down on the baseline. The rest of the stuff that happens on the backside is what's really the key, how guys come over and help on the baseline to take the charge and the guy that rolls."

In other words, the Lakers now stress more accountability in defending the perimeter, ensuring players don't drive through the middle of the lane and provide themselves enough flexibility so that the frontline doesn't have to leave the basket unattended.

"We want to make sure we influence the ball down the sideline and then to the baseline," Jackson said. "It's not a total departure from what we've done, but we just tweaked it a bit."

Add in the emergence of Lakers center Andrew Bynum, and you have what Bryant describes as a "shot blocker" who will "clog the middle up" and "contest everything."

"I'm close to the rim all the time now," Bynum said. "We're switching off and I'm just guarding guys next to the block and next to the rim."

Don't mistake the Lakers' emergence on defense as an indictment on the team's past defensive teams. Former Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis ran the team's defense that led the Lakers to holding the Orlando Magic to an average of 91.2 points a game in the 2009 NBA Finals. The Lakers secured Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals by holding Boston to 79 points. But with very little working, double-digit losses to Milwaukee and Miami on Christmas Day prompted Person and Jackson to make a change. So far, it's worked.

"We're trying to break habits, more than anything else," Jackson said. To really learn, you have to break the old habits. Some of those are difficult to do. We've been playing a form of defense that has been pretty good for us the last four years. But we're trying to make some adjustments in it and breaking those habits take some time."

--Mark Medina

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