This Is Our Revamped Defense? Or, How We Squeaked By Yet Again
Posted by hiphopmama on December 10, 2008
Phoenix 110, LA Lakers 115
First things first: props to Phil for starting Luke tonight. It’s no secret that I’ve been unhappy with the whittling down – no, fuck that, the chopping block treatment – of his minutes. It has been going on since the playoffs last year when he was overlooked after coming back from injury, but it continued this season as the Lakers bench got even deeper with players who were finally ready for prime time. He’s not just a skilled player being snubbed for other viable talent. He is a seasoned, intelligent battler who brings much more to the game than his skill set. Kind of like Rick Fox except much more likable, his role with the team is largely mental. He has great court awareness and is a tremendous passer, spotting the opening before it appears and threading the needle to connect with a streaking player. Sure, Ariza has more athletic ability and Radmanovic is more of a pure shooter, but Walton is a stabilizing influence on the floor who can run the offense even from a front court position and help the second unit settle in. He needs more time to regain his rhythm and get his legs back under him, but that will come with more PT. I’m sure it was as much about making a statement after some shoddy team play, but hopefully Phil will recognize his value for the team after his performance tonight.
Miraculously earning his way into the starting lineup, Luke immediately made his presence felt. He blocked a shot on the opening possession, had a great interior pass to Bynum in the halfcourt set, and lobbed one ahead of the pack for a transition basket, all within the first five minutes. He had four assists in the first quarter alone, although he got into a little foul trouble and played less and less as the game went on. Going to our seven-footers also worked early. Gasol and Bynum continued their solid play from last night, when they were two of the only bright spots to a horrid Lakers performance. Gasol uncharacteristically picked up a second foul in the first quarter and had to sit but he had a marvelous game, easily the best on the team by the night’s end.
Kobe, on the other hand, was still stinking it up. He missed his first four shots, most of which were pull-up jumpers that he appeared to take on a whim rather than open looks obtained by running the offense. He eventually hit a couple, but it wasn’t enough to declare him officially out of his slump yet. I’m sure his heart was warmed at the news that Raja Bell had been dealt to Charlotte prior to the game (along with Boris Diaw in exchange for Bobcats leading scorer Jason Richardson), but it didn’t help him shoot any better than he did in Sacramento. At least he only fired up 16 shots this time.
The flow of the game was typical Lakers: build up a bit of a lead, watch it disappear, and repeat ad nauseum. The Suns eventually grabbed the lead for a few minutes in the third, but we were fortunate to stabilize at the right time and string some points together, because our defense sure wasn’t going to win this game for us. Even calling it defense is quite generous, as we allowed the Suns’ eight-man roster to shoot over 50% and score 105 points with no Shaq and Nash only scoring 7 points. Stoudemire (21 points) was outstanding and Grant Hill (23 points) smoked us, but allowing Matt Barnes to score 25 was the last straw. I like Barnes – have been a fan since he was at UCLA – but he is not someone who should steamroll you for 25, let alone get off 20 good shots as he did tonight. Barbosa chipped in 18 and even Louis Amundson (who?) got 8.
The Suns’ stat sheet doesn’t tell the full story, though. The sheer number of open jumpers, easy drives, and uncontested lay-ups was disgusting. Mark Jackson was right that we are the weakest of the top three teams at the moment, and I felt vindicated to hear him enumerate all the problems I have been harping on all along: the failure to stop penetration, the weak defensive rotations, the complete lack of any kind of defensive mentality. He overdid it considerably, however, and had me reaching for the mute button by the third quarter. We get it. There was no defense. Now find something else to talk about or change your name to Hubie Brown (seriously, does that guy have anything else besides statistics in his repertoire?).
The team as a whole played a middling sort of game. Kobe’s 6-of-16 shooting was offset by Pau’s 11-of-14 – does this man ever miss? – and for the most part the subs looked properly chastened. Ariza didn’t shoot well, but he took fewer poor shots and provided the requisite hustle plays out there. Vujacic was the biggest improvement, scoring a season high 15 points on 4-of-5 shooting including 3 three-pointers. Most importantly, he didn’t fire off threes at random moments and played a good all-around game, even making a few good defensive plays. Late in the game, when we needed to keep scoring to keep Phoenix at bay, he spurned the open three, took a couple steps inside the line, and made the mid-range jumper to help our cause. If he keeps playing like that, I will overlook his soccer player hair and impudent demeanor, which come to think of it was remarkably absent tonight.
In terms of X’s and O’s, I have a couple requests. For one, I’d like to hear about some heads rolling on account of defensive effort or some practices wholly devoted to our defensive scheme, because we don’t even seem to have one right now. It’s like I’ve been saying all along: getting deflections is not the key to a solid defense come playoff time, so we’d be wise to develop a real plan for getting stops when it matters. Also, I’m glad that we have more freedom and speed of movement without the Big Molasses in the lineup, but I’d occasionally like to see us play a more big-centric game like we did when we had Shaq. By that I mean that I wish that more often we would dribble up court and just chuck it down to either Gasol or Bynum on the block, let them go to work, and run the triangle from there. The way those two have been playing leads me to believe that at least something of worth would develop. I’m sure it would refry the Bean a bit, being that he hated that approach during the Shaq years, but it wouldn’t have to be all the time and who really cares as long as it works? At least when our bigs are punishing the opposition, which they usually are, we should use it to our advantage.
A win is a win, I guess, and we definitely needed this one after the debacle in Sacramento last night. We have to play those pesky Kings again on Friday, this time at home, so hopefully we can make some kind of statement out of it, although I highly doubt it. They never make it easy, do they?