Jerry West on Defensive Comments

For the past few days, Jerry West’s name has come up quite a few times around the Lakers’ practice facility and at Staples Center, as media members sought out reactions to comments West made as the keynote speaker during the Orange County Automobile Dealers Association luncheon last Friday, as reported by the Orange County Register.

On Tuesday afternoon, West offered an explanation of his remarks to after we chatted with him about the unveiling of a statue in his likeness outside of Staples Center.

“I think it’s kind of funny because it was in jest,” West said of his comments. “A few weeks ago, (media members) asked Phil (Jackson) what’s wrong, and he said, ‘We’re just not defending well.’ And I just said there’s something about when you get older you don’t defend as well. I think comments like that, and I was laughing while I said them, get blown completely out of proportion.”

The Lakers’ defense, by the numbers at least, ranks third in the NBA in field goal percentage allowed (.437), as both Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher pointed out after Monday’s practice. Their defense has allowed fewer points — albeit while playing at a slower pace — since the return of Andrew Bynum on Dec. 28, helping the team towards a 12-3 mark.

To West, the Lakers only struggle defensively while getting caught in transition, due primarily to the fact that they have seven footers starting at the power forward and center positions. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are of course a huge — literally and figuratively — collective reason why the Lakers have won two straight championships, their length too much to overcome in combination with the rest of what L.A. can do. But it can be difficult for one big man and especially two to get back on defense when the ball is turned over. At least in the regular season…

“When I look at this team, the regular season and the playoffs are different,” West explained. “Every game in the regular season you don’t have as much of a chance to prepare, but the thing that you really see is when the Lakers get in their half court offense, if they turn the ball over or take shots out of their offense, that’s when they’re vulnerable (in transition) because big guys get trapped in the paint. But in the playoffs, they’re going to be fine.”

In the playoffs, West contended, the game slows down as execution on offense becomes more important, and teams have far fewer transition opportunities as a result, minimizing the potential negative impact of being a bigger team like the Lakers or Celtics that may not always show up in the regular season.

That’s a big reason why West said he expects the Lakers and Celtics to meet in the Finals once again. He thinks the Celtics are the only team that has the size to really challenge the Lakers.

“The thing that defines championship teams is how you play together,” West concluded. “I think the Lakers have four All-Stars on the team and are certainly capable of winning the championship again.”