The Untold Story of the Lakers: They Defend Now

They say Manhattan is a great place to hide: right in the middle of all the bright lights, who notices an extra pedestrian here or there?

Royce Webb of ESPN has spotted something novel through the smoke and lights of the hype riot of the Miami Heat-Los Angeles Lakers game: the numbers make clear that this season under Phil Jackson, the Lakers are suddenly one of the elite defensive teams in the league.

Last year, the Lakers were 29th (of 30 teams) in defense, according to John Hollinger's Defensive Efficiency rating, which is simply a measure of how many points a team allows per 100 possessions. They were a terrible defensive team, and they finished 34-48.

This year? Coming into Monday's games, the Lakers were tied for ninth in the league with the vaunted Pistons. They were ahead of Jerry Sloan's Jazz, Jeff Van Gundy's Rockets, Scott Skiles' Bulls and 17 other teams.

That's what Jackson has persuaded the Lakers to do -- play defense. He's getting the usual stellar effort out of Bryant, some strong defensive play out of Odom and Smush Parker and a surprising interior defensive presence in Kwame Brown. More than anything else, he's getting them to play hard.