First order of business for Lakers: Fix the help defense

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It’s been a pretty regular happening for the Lakers the past few games:

The opposing point guard blows past Chris Duhon without much resistance. Dwight Howard sees it coming early (there’s a reason he’s three-time Defensive Player of the Year) and rotates over to cut off the lane — but then nobody helps the helper. Nobody makes the next rotation to pick up Howard’s man, or if they do it is late. Either way a big man gets a shot at the rim or there is a wide-open guy on the perimeter for a kick-out corner three.

The Lakers defensive rotations are maybe their biggest weakness right now (outside of injuries, anyway) and if they are going to start winning that is the first thing that has to be fixed.

Howard is understandably frustrated as he tries to quarterback this thing and he said as much to Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com.

“Guys have to understand I’m going to try to block shots and I’m going to help as early as I can and I’m going to be there,” Howard was quoted as saying. “We have to get each other’s back.”

And, Kobe Bryant endorsed the frustration, saying, “He should be. He can’t do everything defensively. He’s doing as much as he can, changing shots and the things of that nature. But when teams are getting out in the break and laying the ball up so many times, there’s not much you can do.”

The thing is, Kobe is part of the problem — his rotations have been terrible at times and at other points he was busy arguing a call and didn’t even get back over half court to help in transition. Howard has barked at Kobe because of it. The bigger issue with Bryant is that he has gone back to doing a lot of roaming when his man doesn’t have the ball — he is gambling for steals and getting caught way out of position because of it. Our own Darius Soriano broke it down with video over at ForumBlueandGold.com.

We shouldn’t just single out Kobe, there isn’t a Laker who is blameless. They all are slow on rotations, get caught ball watching and when you then play a team like the Jazz that moves well off the ball you pay a serious price. But with Kobe as the team leader, more is expected of him.

While Mike D’Antoni’s offense might be free flowing, a defense is about discipline. And right now the Lakers have none on that end of the floor. That is not something the return of Steve Nash and Pau Gasol is going to instantly fix, but it is the biggest key to the Lakers turning this thing around. They are scoring points, but the Thunder, Jazz and even for a quarter Magic and Rockets exposed them on the defensive end. If the Lakers defense doesn’t improve, the team won’t, at least not to the level Lakers fans expect.

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: ‘I expect to beat them’

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During the 2014-15 season, Rockets star James Harden said the Warriors “ain’t even that good.”

Golden State went on to reach the last three NBA Finals, twice beating Houston in the playoffs, and win two championships.

The Rockets have since re-tooled around Harden, Chris Paul and several quality role players and are in first place. Houston looks like the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference.

Rockets center Clint Capela on the Warriors, via Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report:

“I expect to beat them,” Capela says.

That’s a fine sentiment. Saying it publicly is another matter. Not even Harden did that a couple years ago. He was recorded during a pregame team huddle.

There’s a fine line between self-fulfilling confidence and providing bulletin-board material to the opponent. There’s already some animosity between the teams stemming from the Stephen Curry-Harden MVP race in 2015, and it has bubbled since. No matter how harmless Capela’s remark might have been intended to be, it’ll be met contentiously in the Bay Area.

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Victor Oladipo

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Oklahoma City traded for Victor Oladipo out of Orlando to be their third scorer, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It didn’t exactly work out that way, Durant bolted town and when Westbrook went off Oladipo was looking for a place to fit in.

That place turned out to be the Pacers.

Oladipo has been playing like an All-Star this season with Indiana, and last week he was key in snapping Cleveland’s 13 game win streak, then turned around and dropped 47 points on Denver. For the week he averaged 35.7 points a game, shot 45.7 percent from three, plus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game.

That will get you named the PBT Extra Player of the Week.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.