Lakers placing emphasis on defense

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Mike D'Antoni had been the Los Angeles Lakers' head coach for less than a month when he got into a heated exchange with a reporter after the Lakers lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Dec. 11 of last season, their fifth loss in six games at the time.

The exchange was prompted by questions about his approach to coaching defense.

D'Antoni seemed to have the spat fresh in his mind when a different reporter asked him after practice Wednesday what percentage of training camp he spends on defense versus offense.

"I would say 99.9 (percent) on defense and 0.1 on offense," D'Antoni said with a sarcastic smile. "Does that satisfy you guys?"

He was making a joke with the over exaggeration, but the truth is, the coach actually has been making an effort to get his team to understand that their success this season will start with stops on the defensive end.

"It seems like he's harping a little bit more on defense now," Shawne Williams, who played for D'Antoni in New York, told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "He's spending more time on defense. It used to just be a lot of offense and he used to try to tell us, 'Defense comes from within,' but now, everything starts with defense and then we let that dictate the offense."

Seven seconds or less? More like consecutive stops or else.

"Defense has been and it will be a priority if we want to be competitive and win the majority of the games," said Pau Gasol. "So, that has to be a focus for us. We can’t rely on our offense to bail us out and get us wins. Defense is what’s going to make us consistent and what’s going to make us beat good teams."

The Lakers' defensive numbers from a season ago sum up why the year felt so miserable. L.A. was tied with Brooklyn for 18th in the league in defensive efficiency, allowing opponents to score 103.6 points per 100 possessions. And that was with former defensive player of the year award winners Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace. Not that those two were a whole lot of help. Even with Howard down low, L.A. ranked 22nd in the league in opponents’ field goal percentage inside of five feet, according to NBA.com Stats Cube (59.8 percent), and even with World Peace on the perimeter, the Lakers were 26th in the NBA with just 7.0 steals per game.

With Howard and World Peace on-court defensive ability gone, the Lakers are relying on new assistant coach Kurt Rambis' off-court tutelage to help the team improve on that end.

"Kurt is doing a very good job," said Gasol. "Kurt I think is a really good defensive coach and coach overall, so he’s going to help a lot on continuing to emphasize how important the defensive end is in order for any team to be successful."

If it all sounds like rhetoric, well, some of it is. You can drill a team to death with defensive concepts, but they only make a difference if they can be applied during the course of a game. That's why D'Antoni prefers more open-court instruction during gameplay in training camp.

"Here’s the deal: One team’s got the ball (in an intrasquad scrimmage) so they’re on offense and working on offense," D'Antoni said. "The other team is defense. So, it’s really 100 percent on both."

Added D'Antoni: "We’ll try to add something each day and get our drills down, but you mostly learn to play and we play a lot. And when you play a lot, hopefully we’re working on our defense all the time."