In consecutive decisive wins over Utah (96-71) and New York (99-82), the Lakers used a swarming defense to hold both teams to under 33 percent shooting from the field, the first time that’s happened since 1959, when the Minneapolis Lakers held the Pistons and Cincinnati Royals under the mark.
The Jazz managed to make just 32.2 percent of their shots, and the Knicks 31.3, as head coach Mike Brown cited the team’s effort on the weak side and sound attention to the intended pick and roll scheme that had L.A.’s big men aggressively show out on the ball handler, then scramble back to pack the paint.
“Our weak side has been extremely active,” said Brown. “The weak side blocks that we’ve gotten when a guy catches the ball right off the post … that’s hard to do, because (opponents) are athletic. They take one dribble, and it’s a dunk or they’re to the rim, and our activity on the weak side has guys in the right spot.”
Josh McRoberts and Pau Gasol were particularly effective coming across the paint to block shots, Gasol amassing seven swats in the two wins and McRoberts two rejections in three of L.A.’s four games.
“For those guys to have that type of understanding in terms of positioning defensively and activity defensively, in a short amount of time, knock on wood, hopefully that doesn’t go away because that’s what we need to have in order to continue to excel on that end of the floor,” Brown continued. “That’s one of our staples: let’s shrink the floor and make that paint look crowded. We want to give up contested two’s or contested threes.”
The Spaniard has also been very effective on the basketball, using his combination of length and IQ to hold two of the league’s top scoring big men, Al Jefferson (2-for-16) and Amare Stoudemire (4-for-17), to a combined 6-for-33 from the field.
“It’s just being active, being aggressive, being physical,” said Gasol. “My teammates in our system defensively give you good support, you trust that if you make a mistake you’re going to have your back covered by your teammates, so that helps quite a bit in being more aggressive to the ball and forcing tougher shots.”
Brown patted Gasol on the back a bit more.
“He has a great understanding of what he needs to do in terms of trying to space guys and use his length,” Brown explained. “When I took the job, well, (people said ) Fish (Derek Fisher) can’t guard opposing PG’s anymore. There’s nobody, in my opinion, that can guard NBA starting point guards 1-on-1. You can’t do that. If you understand where your help is going to be and defensive positioning, anybody can guard anybody.”
Kobe Bryant has been a broken record for the past few weeks in praising the attention to detail Brown and his coaching staff have shown especially on the defensive side of the ball, and seeing it work as well as it has for two straight games (and the second half against Chicago) has everybody buying in further.
“We’re doing what we’re supposed to do,” said Bryant. “That’s what (Brown) encourages, that’s what he enforces. Everybody has assignments and (Brown) holds everyone accountable in terms of what mistakes are being made and who’s making them … everybody has a responsibility to one another to protect each other.”
The Lakers will receive an additional defensive shot in the arm when their biggest paint presence, and perhaps in the entire Western Conference in Andrew Bynum, returns to the court on Saturday against Denver after serving a four-game suspension. Bynum, who has dominated practices defensively with his sheer size and the returned ability to jump multiple times on healthy-feeling legs, had several teammates openly excitable about how much more effective they can be as a defense.
We’ll see if L.A. can sustain its high level of play defensively in a home-and-away back-to-back against Denver, who leads the NBA with an average of 111 points per game through a 2-1 start, the Nuggets a much better offensive crew than either the Knicks or the Jazz.