COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Lakers have many issues to contend with one quarter of the way through the NBA season, but none is more glaring than the defense. L.A. is allowing 98.7 points per game and is 18th in the NBA in that regard. On Sunday night against the Utah Jazz, they gave up a season-high 117 points in a losing effort and fell to 9-12.
Defense continues to cost this talented team games and is their most obvious weakness. So how can they fix it? Here are five tangible ways the Lakers can address their issues on the most important end of the floor:
5. Steve Nash runs the offense
There aren't four more dangerous words in the Lakers' lexicon than "when Nash gets back". The Lakers and even head coach Mike D'Antoni have stated this rhetoric that the injured point guard will fix things far too often. The Lakers' issues are on the defensive end, and can't be solved by a 38-year-old point guard who has never been known for his on-ball defensive skills.
But what Nash will do is masterfully facilitate the D'Antoni offense in such a way that bad turnovers are all but eliminated. That will help with transition defense. He's not a savior by any means, but he's going to take some pressure off the rest of the team.
Failure to communicate on offense and defense has caused substantial problems in turnovers and transition each game. Part of it is unfamiliarity with one another, as there are a lot of new pieces to add to the team, but the other issue is simply attention to detail. Turnovers and blown assignments scream of failed communication, and there needs to be a premium placed on talking to one another.
The communication has been so poor that it has negated the effectiveness of Dwight Howard at times, leaving him out of position to help. He's the one player that can mitigate the lack of team speed with his presence inside.
3. Coach the 'D'
Defense is interesting in a sense that it needs to be emphasized in practice, but doesn't need to be taught at the NBA level. There's no doubt that D'Antoni is emphasizing defense in practice, but is the Lakers' coaching staff doing it enough?
It would appear not, because the Lakers continue to give up too many easy baskets. They gave up 54 points in the paint on Sunday night and 25 fast break points. That's no good for a team that's expected to compete for a title.
2. Eliminate turnovers
The Lakers are last in the NBA in turnovers with 343. That's an average of 16.3 through 21 games, and an unacceptable mark for a team with a high collective basketball I.Q. Opposing teams are creating points off those turnovers at much too high of a rate, and it's putting a lot of pressure on the team to be flawless on offense. Turnovers happen, but taking care of the ball better moving forward will be the easiest way this team can improve on defense.
1. Give 48 minutes of effort
At every level, defense comes down to effort. The Lakers managed to overcome a 15-point deficit on Sunday night against the Jazz to pull within five points late in the fourth quarter, but they used up all of their energy in the process of the comeback. They need to put forth energy for the entire game and play with a sense of urgency from the opening tip instead of waiting to go into hero mode late in games. Now, the question becomes, how do the Lakers address the effort issue?
D'Antoni cited the need for a gut check, and he's exactly right. Whether or not it took place in the embarrassing home loss against the Jazz remains to be seen. How the team performs on an upcoming four-game road trip beginning in Cleveland on Tuesday will be a tell-tale sign.
Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA. He writes regularly for SB Nation and Examiner, and is the Editor of Sports Out West.
Catch up with him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets
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