Transition D the Key

There’s an argument to be made that transition defense is the most important aspect of L.A.’s game plan against the Nuggets.

Mike Brown’s team executed that plan quite well in Game 1, limiting Denver to 19 fast break points, though the Nuggets were so intent upon run outs in Game 2 that L.A. found the visitors difficult to contain, allowing 30 transition points that kept Denver in a game the Lakers controlled thanks to half court execution on both ends.

The league’s leading fast break scoring team in the league during the regular season will surely try to push the tempo even more so with their home crowd and the thin Rocky Mountain air, so we asked Brown to take us through exactly what the Lakers need to do to corral that pressure.

He didn’t skip any steps while offering an in-succession answer:

1) “First off, when we are on offense and a shot goes up, if you’re a big and you’re already in the paint, go ahead and offensive rebound. If you’re a big and you’re out of the paint, get back. If you’re a small and one of the other two smalls takes the shot, you and the other that didn’t shoot must sprint back immediately.”
- Brown explained that these things have to happen the second a shot is in the air, and that as soon as it does, the first two steps need to be “an explosion.” Meanwhile, eyes need to be trained up court, to gather where the opponent is running.

2) “Once the basket is protected, the next thing is to stop the basketball. We have to stop it without giving up middle drives, and now – because we’re stopping the ball in a no-middle stance – the ball should be on one side of the court or the other.”
- Eliminating the middle prevents easy and direct drives to the hoop, a top priority.

3) “The next step is to load to the basketball, to build a wall that can’t be penetrated.”
- If a Nuggets’ guard is bringing the ball up the right side of the court, Brown doesn’t want his defenders sprinting to the other side of the court.

4) “The last guy down the floor in transition has to run to the weak side, so he’ll have enough time to bump out a small, if the small has a big in a mismatch.”
- This is often one of L.A.’s two bigs, who is more likely to be in the paint going after an offensive board. It’s his job to sprint back to that weak side in case one of the guards has had to body up an opposing big.

5) “Our next thing is to find what we call ‘most dangerous.’ Now that we have the ball stopped, we’ve loaded on the strong side and the paint looks crowded, we can build out to shooters. If we have to give up any shot, it’s going to be a late, contested three.”
- Once the first four priorities are accomplished, players have to be smart enough to recognize what’s dangerous (say, Danilo Gallinari spotting up for a trailing three) and what’s not (Timofey Mozgov trailing the play outside of the paint).

6) “Then it’s just box out and rebound.”
- Naturally.

So that’s the progression that Mike Brown wants his players thinking about literally every time a shot goes in the air, which is very much easier said than done, especially when a team like Denver gets some momentum going. But as Brown pointed out, we can’t gloss over how important L.A.’s offensive execution is to transition defense.

“It all starts with how we’re playing offensively,” he explained. “If we take a poor shot or a quick shot, if we have all five guys below the free throw line when the shot goes up, if we ball watch when the shot goes up, if we turn the ball over and our floor balance isn’t correct we can get into trouble.

“All those things can help our opponent get out and attack us in transition because our floor balance is bad.”

The other thing to avoid, at all costs, is having mental lapses, which is how big runs start. Say a player takes a bad shot, then two others don’t get back in transition, there can start to be a snowball effect.

“We can’t afford that,” Brown continued. “One thing we say to our guys a lot is ‘next play,’ meaning if I turn it over, they get a dunk if I don’t immediately sprint back. It’s not human like to think of having an explosion back after an error, because you naturally are thinking about your mistake, but you just have to move on immediately to take away an opportunity at the other end.”

When Game 3 is over late on Friday night, go ahead and check the “fast break points” statistic for Denver; it will most likely go a long ways towards telling the tale of the contest.