When Jerry West spoke to some Orange County car dealers last week, he said that part of the problem with the Lakers defense was that they were too old. “The reason you can’t play defense is because you can’t,” he said.
Phil Jackson agreed — with qualifiers — with that when speaking to the media Sunday (such as the Los Angeles Times).
“He’s right,” the Lakers’ coach said, still smiling. “We have to do a lot of things right to be able to play defense the way we want to. And most of it is about controlling the tempo of the game…
“There’s some (age issues with the Lakers),” he said. “There’s something about just speed, just outright speed. We’re not the fastest team on the board here in the NBA. But we do it if we control things the right way.”
The Lakers have not been a bad defensive team — they are 10th in the league in defensive efficiency (points given up per possession) — but there have been lapses. Ugly, high-profile lapses. Those lapses tend to happen when they let the other team get transition points or early offense points, before the Lakers can set their defense. Basically, when more athletic teams can run on them.
Since the return of Andrew Bynum to the starting lineup, the Lakers defense is better when it gets set. They have made a point of keeping Bynum home to protect the paint. The wing defenders have done a better job of funneling players looking to drive toward the baseline and toward the long arms of Bynum (and Pau Gasol).
All that bodes well for the playoffs, when the pace of games tends to slow down. To beat the Lakers teams will need some easy transition buckets, because while the Lakers are older — 10 players on the roster are 30 or more — they are still very good if you let them get into their system.