Cue in the music, watch the spinners spin as John Cena comes out in the middle of the ring and announces: “The Champ is heeeeeeere”. Except really it’s not WWE superstar John Cena, it’s actually Kobe Bryant and his two time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers (28-11) that are in town tonight to face off against the Golden State Warriors (15-22). They have been the talk of the NBA so far this season not because of their dominance, but rather because they have been seemingly going through the motions. And yet, they are still the most talented team in the National Basketball Association.
On offense, the Lakers average 103.3 points per game (sixth in the NBA) on 46.3% field goal shooting (12th in the league). The purple and gold started out the season running their offense through Pau Gasol until Kobe Bryant started to assert himself more frequently on offense as the season progressed. However, with Andrew Bynum now back in the fold and starting again, the defending champions are exploiting their length and size at the expense of their opponents.
Initially, one might be surprised to see that the Lakers only average 22.5 shots at the rim (13th in the NBA) given their size but those field goal attempts do not tell the whole story. Indeed, according to Team Rankings, the champs average 45.3 points per game in the paint (third best in the league) on the strength of their big men but also because of their perimeter players. They do a great job of creating shots at the basket but also blend those attempts with some short jumpers right in the lane.
According to Hoopdata, the Lakers average 15.1 shots from 10 feet or less (sixth in the league) and 7.7 shots from 10 to 15 feet (10th in the association). There are three reasons why the Lakers are able to consistently get shots from these areas on the floor:
I. Their interior play results in them facing several double teams which forces them to kick out the ball and find the open man. Their 22.3 assists per game (eighth in the association) proves that they are more than willing to share the ball (by the way the Lakers and Celtics are probably the best interior passing teams in the league; in related news they both made the Finals last year). Indeed, the Lakers are good at finding the open man but they do not settle for long range shots. On the contrary, when passing the ball out of double teams, they do a great job of pump faking and getting the rotating defender out of the picture, where they take a dribble or two to take an uncontested midrange jumper as opposed to a three point shot or long two point shot.
II. Players such as Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom are terrific at breaking down their defender from the wing to create midrange shots for themselves or their teammates.
III. Players such as Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Bryant and Artest are all more than capable of posting up and creating a quality shot in the low post.
With that said, their offense does tend to lose some of its crispness when the Black Mamba fails to assert himself offensively. Because teams usually try to clog the lanes and prevent the easy post entry passes, it’s important for the Lakers to manufacture some ball movement as well as some drives to feed the big men right at the basket. If Bryant is not involved offensively (yes, I do realize that this would be like saying if Dave Chappelle is not being funny; but really it does happen on rare occurrences), the court shrinks for the Lakers. Also, if defenders are able to bait the Lakers star guard into going one on one, it can result in his teammates standing around as opposed to them moving without the ball and attacking the offensive glass.
On defense, the Los Angeles Lakers surrender 96.9 points per game (11th in the NBA) on a frigid 43.6% field goal shooting (fourth in the league). One of the biggest reasons the Lakers are tough to score on is their size. It seems obvious to say, but it does overwhelm most teams. Because the purple and gold have players to protect the basket, their perimeter guys crowd their opponents thus forcing them to put the ball on the floor and try to finish over the outstretched arms of the Lakers big men.
In general, opposing teams understand that the way to score on the two time champions is to drive past their perimeter defenders and then stop for midrange shots. It explains why the Lakers allow 14.0 shots per game from 10 feet or less (23rd in the association). Indeed, teams that attack the basket against the Lakers frontline normally struggle to convert as evidenced by their 59.9% field goal percentage allowed at the rim (sixth best in the NBA).
Given the fact that the Lakers rarely double team and typically guard players one on one, teams have a hard time converting three point shots against them (they allow 34.3% shooting from deep which is sixth in the league) and also struggle to get to free throw line. Indeed, they only allow 21.2 free throw attempts per game (second best in the NBA).
As good as the Lakers defense is, it does have some weaknesses. For instance, their big men prefer to play in the half court and therefore have trouble getting back on defense. Consequently, Los Angeles opponents score 14.4 fast break points per game (20th in the NBA). Also, they surprisingly allow teams to crash the offensive boards on them. Their opponents average 12.2 offensive rebounds per game (26th in the league) because the Lakers do not always do an adequate job of boxing out their players; instead relying on their length to clean up the glass. As a result, opponents are able to sneak into the lane to create second shot opportunities.
The Warriors have the personnel to pound the Lakers on the offensive glass and they also have the guards to push the pace and score in transition. Ultimately their ability to defend the Lakers big men will be the key to this game. Gasol and Bynum have had trouble in the past scoring against big players with length (think Rasheed Wallace, Shaquille O’Neal, Kendrick Perkins and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to name a few), so if Andris Biedrins and Dan Gadzuric’s can play big; they will give the Dubs a chance to win the game.
L.A. Lakers game notes: Matt Barnes (knee) is scheduled to miss two months.
Golden State game notes: Monta Ellis (flu) should be a game time decision.