No ?D? in Los Angeles
THE NEW LOOK LAKERS WILL HAVE TO PLAY DEFENSE TO CONTEND FOR THE WESTERN AND NBA CROWNS
Though the Los Angeles Lakers acquired the best defensive player in the league this past offseason when they traded for Dwight Howard (there's definitely a "D" in "Dwight!"), the team as a whole has been playing very poor defense in a way that's shocked the media, oddsmakers, and sports bettors heading into Wednesday Night's road game against the Utah Jazz
Yes, the team did play well at home this past Sunday Night against a very poor Eastern Conference squad from Detroit. Since most contenders in both conferences are going to squash the Pistons, that game didn't mean very much. What was clear vs. Dallas, Portland, and the LA Clippers was that there was no "D" in Los Angeles when the Lakers were playing decent opposition.
LAKERS DEFENSIVE ISSUES
Team movement is still very poor. Having Dwight Howard in the paint isn't that much different than having Andrew Bynum in the paint in terms of a tall tree getting in the way of dunks. But, teams weren't scoring much at the rim last year anyway. The Lakers don't rotate well, and they don't protect each other's backs as much as they should on switches.
Kobe Bryant has slowed down because his body is breaking down. He used to be a defensive stalwart. Now, he tends to watch his man blow by him, or he backs off in a way that allows for open jumpers. When the Lakers were playing championship caliber basketball...they had length inside AND they had Kobe locked down on an opposing threat.
Perimeter defense is full of holes that opposing three-points shooters will have no trouble exploiting. You'll recall that Dallas obliterated the Lakers in the playoffs two years ago simply by moving the ball around for open looks. The Lakers never did figure out how to chase down the three-ball, last year included. Bringing in Dwight Howard does nothing about that.
The BENCH is also pretty bad defensively. Many top teams have defensive specialists who can come in and disrupt what the other team is trying to do. The Lakers have a bunch of inexpensive guys of all ages who haven't made it clear yet what it is they're on the roster for.
The general slowness of the team in all quarters has made it easier for opponents to beat the Lakers on the fast break. You can dunk on the Lakers if you beat them downcourt! Fast point guards are having field days (as Russell Westbrook did last year in the playoffs for Oklahoma City against the Lakers). If teams don't get something quick and easy, then can work the ball for a good look out of their set offense.
The media was OBSESSED in the offseason with three Lakers topics. Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and "The Princeton Offense." The Lakers were supposedly installing a pass-happy offense that would create more ball movement and better use their scoring weapons. Nothing wrong with having Steve Nash at quarterback instead of the bad-shot-forcing Kobe Bryant! Everyone should have been paying much more attention to DEFENSE. The Lakers won't be able to outscore what they're allowing no matter what offensive schematic they use if they don't improve on defense.
Last year, the best defenses allowed about 95-98 points for every 100 opposing possessions. The Lakers ranked a disappointing 13th in the league at 101.7 points allowed per 100 opposing possessions. Here's what LA did out of the gate this year against the better teams on what's been a friendly schedule.
99 points allowed to Dallas in 92 possessions (a rate of 107.6)
116 points allowed to Portland in 96 possessions (a rate of 120.8)
105 points allowed to the LA Clippers in 96 (a rate of 109.4)
320 points allowed in 284 possessions (a rate of 112.7 over three games)
Dallas isn't supposed to be a playoff caliber team without Dirk Nowitzki. Portland is a borderline contender by most estimates. The LA Clippers are a playoff team, but are in shaky current form given home losses to Golden State and Cleveland since they beat the Lakers.
What's going to happen when the Lakers try to defend the best offenses? What's going to happen when fatigue sets in for the old starters and everyone gets even SLOWER? What's going to happen against teams who know how to fast break?
Panic in the LA area subsided temporarily with the blowout win over Detroit. At least the team had finally won a game! And, you could see how they could dominate a certain kind of foe. Just don't get the idea that things are fine and the Lakers are now ready to take over the West after a little blip. Detroit isn't in the West. Detroit might be worst in the West if they were invited.
UPCOMING LAKERS GAMES
Tonight: at Utah
Friday: vs. Golden State (and some great shooters)
Sunday: vs. Sacramento
Tuesday: vs. San Antonio (first title contender)
Wednesday's game in Utah will provide a great test for a visiting defense. If the Lakers did turn a corner vs. Detroit, we'll see it here. Golden State could provide a stiff challenge (they Warriors just beat the Clippers team that beat the Lakers). And, San Antonio is playing very well out of the gate...with a prototype offense that the Lakers MUST solve if they're serious about winning the West this year. You have to let San Antonio and Oklahoma City know they're not going to bully you come playoff time.
JIM HURLEY loves handicapping early season NBA because the lines are always so soft. So far, after Tuesday's win with the Nuggets, we're 7-3. In fact, you can make the case that the 2012 lines are the softest they've been in YEARS out of the gate. At least a dozen teams have been underrated so far (including the explosive New York Knocks). A half dozen big name teams have been overrated in the number. Oddsmakers missed the mark with their offseason assessments, and have been caught with their points down in early action. JIM HURLEY is beating them in transition!
He'll show you that again Wednesday Night with the best from a very busy schedule. Lakers/Jazz might be in the mix. But we're also looking at:
Brooklyn at Miami
Indiana at Atlanta
Philadelphia at New Orleans (on ESPN)
Denver at Houston (Harden and Lin return to the floor)
San Antonio at LA Clippers (on ESPN)
Check out options for the college football game featuring Bowling Green and Ohio too. And don't forget that college basketball starts Friday with a huge day (including Michigan State/Connecticut, Ohio State/Marquette, and Maryland/Kentucky!).
Game day releases are always available right here at the website for credit card purchase. If you have any questions about seasonal packages, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Smart Vegas bettors are now cashing tickets SEVEN DAYS A WEEK thanks to Jim Hurley's guidance in football and basketball.
Back with you Thursday to begin football stat previews for the weekend. The planned schedule:
THURSDAY: Indianapolis at Jacksonville in the NFL (Luck in the Spotlight)
FRIDAY: Texas A&M at Alabama (Biggest College Game of the Week)
SATURDAY: BCS Breakdown (with Oregon, K-State, N-Dame all Under the Lights)
SUNDAY: Houston at Chicago in the NFL (What a Blockbuster!)
MONDAY: Kansas City at Pittsburgh (Steelers Surging)
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