As Byron Scott talks big, Lakers’ defense sinks to historic depths

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BOSTON – Lakers forward Carlos Boozer has a mostly deserved reputation as a poor defender. But there must be a limit on his shortcomings, because, for four years in Chicago, Tom Thibodeau built excellent defenses with Boozer starting.

How did the Bulls do it?

Boozer says Chicago drilled its scheme daily, players actually moving through their defensive rotations to reinforce them.

“We just did it every day,” Boozer said. “Even if we did it for five minutes, 10 minutes.”

Every day? Is that hyperbole?

“Every day,” Boozer said. “In Chicago with Thibs, we drilled our defensive rotation every day. Every day. In the morning at shootaround, practice day – it’d obviously be a lot longer on the practice day. But every day, we drilled it to make sure we know where we were supposed to be at, what we were going to do.”

And in Los Angeles?

“We talk about it a lot,” Boozer said.

That the Lakers do.

“The main thing that I have to do right away is establish ourselves as a defensive basketball team,” first-year Lakers coach Byron Scott said at his introductory press conference.

“We’ll come ready to defend every single night,” he guaranteed.

In the months since, the Lakers coach has continued to emphasize defense. To many, his defensive focus is a breath of fresh air after Mike D’Antoni’s perceived indifference to that end of the floor. Under D’Antoni’s watch, the Lakers’ defensive rating slipped to 28th in the NBA last season as they went 27-55, their worst record since moving to Los Angeles.

But the 2014-15 Lakers not only rank last in the league in defensive rating, they’re historically bad.

This is a team with defensive woes everyone – from old-school holdouts to advanced-stats aficionados – can appreciate. The Lakers rank last in points allowed per 100 possessions (115.2) and points allowed per game (110.9). No team has hit that double whammy since the 2005-06 Seattle SuperSonics.

By allowing 115.2 points per 100 possessions, the Lakers are on pace to set the all-time record for worst defensive rating. The highest mark for a full season is 114.7 – done by the 2008-09 Kings, 1992-93 Mavericks and 1990-91 Nuggets.

Just how bad is the Lakers’ defense? It’s headed solidly in the right direction, but not once this season has it rated better than the worst ever. Here’s how the Lakers’ cumulative defensive rating (purple) has trended relative to the marks produced by the worst-ever defenses, the next-worst defense this season (Jazz), average defense this season and best defense this season (Warriors):

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The Lakers’ biggest defensive problem is simple. They lack good defenders.

Only one current Laker ranked in the top 170 of ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus last season, No. 98 Ed Davis. Davis is also the only Laker with an above-average mark in Basketball-Reference’s defensive box plus-minus this season.

It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that a team with Boozer, Jeremy Lin and Nick Young is struggling defensively.

Even Kobe Bryant’s most fervent fans must admit his defense has slipped from his All-Defensive prime, because Kobe himself acknowledges it. Kobe says his defensive approach is “more tailored, picking spots.”

“I find myself leaning on Wesley Johnson a little more and allowing him to take some of these top guys, let him chase them around and things like that,” Kobe said. “In the past, I used to do it all.”

Kobe’s mindset is illustrative of the Lakers’ bigger problem. They have gifted players who choose to expend more energy on offense than defense. That might be excusable for Kobe, who leads the NBA in scoring thanks to his incredible footwork and court vision. At 36, he’s probably no longer capable of defending at a high level for long stretches, even if he chose to flip his focus.

But what about everyone else?

The Lakers have been accepting their current setup, even if it leaves Davis as one of the few defensive-minded players on the roster and the team’s defense in the gutter as a result.

“You’ve still got to have guys that love to defend. No offense to guys who can score a lot. But a guy like Nick, we need him to give most of his energy on the offensive end. A guy like me, I’ve got to give my energy on the defensive end,” Davis said. “It obviously helps when you have a lot of defensive-minded guys on your team, but defense is something that everyone can do. You’ve just got to be willing to do it.”

Davis and others in the Lakers’ locker room point to the team’s lack of experience. Traditionally, defense is viewed as the side of the ball requiring more time to develop.

However, the Lakers are the NBA’s eighth-oldest team, weighted by playing time. This is not a young team unaccustomed to NBA play.

To be fair, there are a lot of new pieces. The Lakers have given just 53 percent of their minutes this season to players who played for the team last year, the league’s seventh-lowest mark.

There is a statistically significant correlation between percentage of minutes given to returners and a better defensive rating:

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Although the Lakers simply needing time to jell might be partially excuse their troubles, there’s a lot more going wrong here. Only the Jazz, based on the percentage of minutes given to returners, fall further from their project defensive rating.

The Lakers’ transition defense is woefully bad. They allow 15.6 fastbreak points per game (third-most in the league) despite surrendering just 6.2 steals per game (fifth-fewest in the league).

At least when the Lakers can set up in the halfcourt, they upgrade from incredibly awful to plainly lousy.

Jeremy Lin is far from a stopper, and when his man penetrates and the Lakers are forced to rotate, they often get scrambled. The problems often start there.

But even in the right spots, this team lacks the defensive talent to really make opponents sweat.

Jordan Hill might be the best defender among the Lakers’ regular starters. The center has a real skill for defending inside and out, and his mobility allows him to spend time on the perimeter without it being a liability in itself. However, that has left Boozer to protect the rim, a responsibility he simply cannot handle. Boozer has blocked only one shot all season. One! (Sorry, Blake Griffin, you’re Boozer’s lone victim.)

Unhappy with his players, Scott benched Boozer and Lin yesterday, moving Davis and Ronnie Price – a 31-year-old who played solid defense in his younger days but can no longer keep up like he once did (though his shoe sometimes can) – into the starting lineup.

The result? The Pelicans scoring 104 points, the 16th time in 21 games the Lakers have allowed more points per possession than the league average. Heck, the Lakers have allowed more points per possession than the all-time-worst season mark in 10 of their 21 games. They even let Mavericks score 155.6 points per 100 possessions in a game last month, the second-highest single-game mark since at least 1985-96.

Scott can blame his playersBoozer has been a (fair) target – but the Lakers’ upgrading their defensive personnel might not even be enough to solve this issue.  In his last coaching job, Scott led the Cavaliers 29th-, 26th- and 27th-best defensive ratings in the league. The next year, Mike Brown helped lift Cleveland to No. 19. There just isn’t much evidence Scott can design and install an effective defense in the modern NBA.

Beyond any concerns about Scott’s lack of understanding of how the game has evolved, there’s the big question about how he delivers his message.

Boozer said he’d follow Scott’s lead if the coach continues talking about defense more than drilling it. Will more talking eventually lift the Lakers from their defensive rut?

“Sometimes, it’s a process. You’ve got to give it time,” Boozer said before pausing. “Sometimes, you’ve got to switch stuff up a little bit.”

Mike D’Antoni on Chris Paul suspension: ‘What is he supposed to do?’ (VIDEO)

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The NBA suspended Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul along with the Los Angeles Lakers’ Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram on Sunday.

It was the opinion of the league office that all three players should be suspended for their role in a fight that took place on Saturday night between the Rockets and the Lakers at Staples Center.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni took exception to Paul’s suspension, saying that he thought it was “not equitable” that Paul had to face suspension.

The NBA determined that Rondo indeed did spit in Paul’s face, or at least in the direction of him, directly preceding Paul’s eye poke on Rondo. That kicked things off into full force, and it devolved from there.

Via Twitter:

All the suspensions were fairly weak. Ingram got just four games for his initial instigation and giant, loping punch toward Paul. Rondo received three games for spitting on Paul and landing punches. Paul received two games for punching Rondo.

It’s unlikely that anybody was going to be happy with the result of the discipline just because of the bad blood involved. However, the league made comment about the suspension afterward, with the NBA’s Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Kiki VanDeWeghe taking to television later on Sunday.

VanDeWeghe’s explanations don’t satisfy me, and they certainly wouldn’t if I were a Rockets fan. Guys going chest-to-chest and having tensions rise as one thing. Spitting at somebody is another. It’s a level of actionable disrespect that directly influenced and raised tensions during the incident.

Ingram looked childish for shoving James Harden, but his punch came after Rondo got Paul wound up by spitting on him. It’s hard for me to understand how Rondo didn’t get a matching sentence with Ingram at the very least.

For reference, Carmelo Anthony was suspended for 15 games in 2006 after he clocked a player on the New York Knicks during a fight as a member of the Denver Nuggets. Given that precedence, something approaching double digits for both Ingram and Rondo seems like it would have been more appropriate.

Juancho Hernangómez bats game-clinching block to beat Warriors (VIDEO)

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We all knew the Denver Nuggets were going to be exciting this season, but nobody expected them to come through with this kind of statement result this early.

On Sunday as the Nuggets took on the Golden State Warriors, a tight game in Colorado lead to a drive by Stephen Curry in the closing seconds that could have won the defending champions the game.

Instead, Juancho Hernangómez became a Denver legend.

Via Twitter:

It was a serious block by Hernangómez on Damian Jones.

Denver beat the Warriors, 100-98, moving the Nuggets to 3-0 on the year and giving Golden State its first loss of the season.

Kyle Lowry on DeMar DeRozan handshake routine: ‘He’s my best friend’ (VIDEO)

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Kyle Lowry was not happy with the Toronto Raptors when the team traded DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs this offseason for Kawhi Leonard.

Lowry and DeRozan are best friends, and their budding romance has been a sentimental point for fans in Toronto and abroad.

But life goes on, and the Raptors again are one of the teams expected to challenge for an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. That hasn’t kept Lowry from doing the same handshake routine he used to do with DeRozan before games this season.

The only difference? DeRozan isn’t there to help dap up Lowry.

Via Twitter:

For his part, Lowry told NBA TV after Toronto’s game on Saturday that he will continue to do the handshake routine because the DeRozan will always be his best friend.

Even thousands of miles apart you can’t keep these guys from showing love for each other.

NBA confirms Rajon Rondo spit at Chris Paul, hands out suspensions after fight

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With the NBA dissecting video from Saturday night’s game between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers like the Zapruder film, it was only a matter of time before we saw suspensions handed down for Chris Paul, Brandon Ingram, and Rajon Rondo.

On Sunday, the league announced its decision.

After reviewing tape, the NBA determined that Rondo did indeed spit on Paul. Ingram was seen as the initial instigator, and thus was served with a heavier sentence.

The finally tally was:

  • Four games for Ingram
  • Three games for Rondo
  • Two games for Paul

Here’s the relevant details per the NBA’s release.

Via NBA:

Ingram has been suspended for aggressively returning to and escalating the altercation and throwing a punch in the direction of Paul, confronting a game official in a hostile manner, and instigating the overall incident by shoving Rockets guard James Harden. Rondo has been suspended for instigating a physical altercation with, and spitting and throwing multiple punches at, Paul. Paul has been suspended for poking at and making contact with the face of Rondo, and throwing multiple punches at him.

We have been waiting on these suspensions largely to see how the NBA would discipline one of the first actual fights in some time. A maximum of four games seems a little light to me. Carmelo Anthony was suspended for 15 games in 2006 when he clocked Mardy Collins during a fight between the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets.

Rondo only getting three games despite having spit on an opponent is also pretty wild. That’s crazy disrespectful and I would not believe you if you tried to tell me that this bad blood will end here.

Both the Lakers and Rockets will miss some of their most important players as they start duking it out in the tough Western Conference.