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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Undefeated Lakers Have One Weakness: Defense

Miles Cooper |
November 10, 2010 | 2:39 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Can the 2010-11 Lakers break records?

Can they win 73 games and pass the magical mark put up by the '95-96 Bulls?

Can they pass another great Laker team and win an unthinkable 33 games in a row?

It’s speculation that such records will ever be broken, even by this team. But if the Lakers do break the 72-game or the 33-game records, it won't be because of their offensive capabilities. It'll be because of their ability to stop the opposition.

Through eight games, the Lakers have looked exactly how the nation believed they would: dominant. With the additions of Matt Barnes, Steve Blake and defensive stopper Theo Ratliff, the Lakers look poised to hang their 18th championship banner from the rafters. But there is a chink in their armor: they are far from dominant on the defensive end.

The Lakers are currently undefeated, so most people don't see a problem with how they're playing. But Kobe Bryant and Co. aren't concerned with the first couple weeks of the season. They're thinking long term. The fact that they're giving up 112 points to the 1-5 Rockets and 103 points (at home) to the 1-6 Raptors is something they can't be happy about.

So what can we attribute this sudden decline in defense to?

Is it the absence of one half of the "twin towers," Andrew Bynum? Or the unfamiliarity of the Lakers' new role players? Or is it the fact that their offense is so explosive they don't feel the need to play the same defense we witnessed throughout their past two championship seasons?

Through eight games, the Lakers are winning by an average of 12.5 points. With the offensive boom this season, we can account for this rise in scoring differential from 11.4 last year to 12.4 thus far. With Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant both ranked in the top 15 in scoring average and Lamar Odom averaging a double-double, this team's offensive production is unmatched. But does that excuse allowing opponents in every game but two (Portland and Golden State) proceed to score 100 or more points? Not if this team wants to win a third championship in three years.

Without their typical center, Bynum, the Lakers have had to adjust their rotations, which by extension also means playing Lamar and Pau more minutes. But this also means that Phil Jackson does not have another 7-footer to throw at defenders. For all of Bynum’s flaws, he is a pretty mobile 7-footer who eats up a lot of space in the paint. The Lakers have yet to place a timetable on his return, which means they'll have to adapt -- one possibility is to give Ratliff and Derrick Caracter more minutes in order to give Lamar and Pau some rest, so they can save their legs down the stretch.

The Lakers do, however, seem to be getting the message that the Zen Master is trying to tell them -- the same message coaches throughout history, excluding recent Suns teams, have tried to impress upon their teams -- that defense wins championships.

Over the past two games the Lakers have limited opponents to 96 and 94 points respectively. One of the games was against the Northwest-leading Portland Trail Blazers. The other was just a bad game against a mediocre Minnesota Timberwolves squad.

Hopefully a new Laker team will show up for the remaining 74 games. And if this new team expects to be mentioned in the same breath as legendary teams such as the '95-96 Bulls or '71-72 Lakers, they will have to play some defense.

Like my father always tells me, "Offense may win games, but defense will win you championships.”

Let’s hope these Lakers take that to heart.

To reach writer Miles Cooper, click here.

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