First things first: The Lakers are neither scared of, nor unaccustomed to, defending the pick and roll.
"Most teams see it as our weak point," Lakers assistant coach Chuck Person told me Monday after practice in El Segundo. "For instance, the second game we played in San Antonio, they ran 79 pick and rolls. So we know what that system is. We know [Hornets] Coach [Monty] Williams played in that system. He coached in it. I was his teammate in San Antonio. He went to Portland, and they run a lot of pick and rolls up there as well, so he carried it over to New Orleans."
"We knew coming in that we were going to face Chris Paul and the pick and roll," Person continued. "Over the course of this year when we played New Orleans, I don't think it was a concern. It's only a concern if you do things improperly, or out of the system that we determine is best [for us]."
You wouldn't know it based on Sunday's effort, but the Lakers are actually among the best in the league in defending the pick and roll. Via ESPN Stats and Information, when guarding the ball handler in P-and-R sets this season they ranked sixth in points per play and tied for fourth in adjusted field goal percentage. Against the roll man, again the Lakers were very good, ranking in the NBA's top five in both categories. Not Sunday. In Game 1, whether it was Chris Paul (1.5 points per play) or others (1.43 ppp, primarily fueled by Jarrett Jack), the Lakers essentially surrendered twice as many points per pick and roll as they did in the regular season.
Still, don't expect sweeping changes. As Kobe Bryant noted following Sunday's loss, the Lakers never gave themselves a chance. "We didn't do the coverages defensively that we were supposed to do. We just didn't do them. I don't know if we forgot about them, or if it was lack of effort to execute them, but we didn't stick to our game plan."
In Wednesday's Game 2, they aim to fix that. Among the points of emphasis:
Quicker recognition: "We didn’t execute properly with our coverages. Our whole team was a little lethargic. Late in determining what their actions were, and recognizing it and getting to our proper spots defensively. You’ve got to recognize what’s happening then apply what you’ve learned, and we didn’t," Person said.
Avoiding switches. Those plays where Pau Gasol found himself on an island against Paul? Not supposed to happen. "That’s something we’d like to eliminate," Phil Jackson said. "We can do that.”
Positioning and coordination. Brian Shaw noted other problems. "We didn't get guys up to the level of the screen a lot of times. We went underneath screens when we should have been trying to chase Chris Paul over screens," he said. "We didn’t take any of his options away, so he was able to come off and shoot, or whatever. All that was evidenced by the fact he had thirty-something points and 14 assists. We've got to take one of those options away." Another key, Shaw said, was forcing the ball from Paul's hands and making the supporting cast beat you.
Aggression. Following Sunday's loss, Jackson noted his bigs needed to do a better job in support of the guards. Andrew Bynum said Monday he plans to do his part. "When you're playing teams that don't post the ball [frequently], you kind of get lax and stand up and down. I could be a bit more active in patrolling the lane and dealing with those floaters."
Give up the right shots. The Lakers want to run teams off the 3-point line, and keep them out of the paint. Person noted while Paul was taking a lot of jumpers inside the arc, most were in or at the paint. Too close. The Lakers want to force jumpshooters into a true mid-range shot, that area from 15-19 feet.
When it looks right, Person said pick-and-roll defense should look a lot like a zone. "If you’re defending a high screen and roll, you have one guy in between the basket, one guy trailing [over the screen] so [the ballhandler] can’t shoot a three. They can go downhill and the other three guys are in an elongated triangle at the end." Everyone is ready to help, and Bynum is there to seal off the paint.
And despite Sunday's P'n'R carnage, the Lakers still found reason to be encouraged by their system itself, assuming it can be executed properly. By Person's unofficial count (he didn't have his numbers in front of him), the Lakers held the Hornets around 30 percent shooting on pick-and-roll sets defended properly.
Meaning the Lakers believe they were effective when following their rules, they just didn't follow them nearly enough.