<
>

Putting the Heat on the Lakers' defense

The 7-0 Lakers have been, essentially, perfect this season. Their offense has been by far the NBA's best and their defense has been pretty darned good even without Andrew Bynum.

It is hard to find anything to complain about.

But Ed in Arcadia is still worried, and has been complaining about that "pretty darned good" part, the defense.

Right now the Lakers have the NBA's 11th most efficient defense. Combined with that offense, that's plenty good to keep on winning. But there's no denying that they're just behind the Sixers in that department, and just ahead of Golden State. If you're prone to paranoia, you might note that the 11th best defense does not have the whiff of a champion.

And perhaps it can feel a little spooky that likely Finals opponents Miami, Orlando and Boston are ranked first, second and third in defensive efficiency.

Brian Kamenetzky of ESPNLosAngeles, however, digs a bit deeper, and makes an educated guess that the Laker defense is actually better than it appears:

Six of L.A.'s seven opponents (all but Portland) are in the top half in the NBA in pace (average number of possessions over 48 minutes). Five of seven (Phoenix, Houston, Sacramento, Portland, Golden State) are in the top half for offensive efficiency (number of points scored per 100 possessions). In a nutshell, the Lakers have seen a lot of high speed and high efficiency offenses over the first seven games, sometimes in the same night. Still, the Lakers rank a respectable 10th in defensive efficiency, at 101.1 points allowed per 100 opponents possessions. This, by the way, mirrors exactly their defensive efficiency from last season, and we know how that movie ended. Granted, stats fluctuate from year to year, meaning what was good enough a season ago might not be good enough in '09-'10, but the first seven games have hardly been a train wreck.

It's certainly reasonable to believe the Lakers will improve as the schedule evens out, the team continues to gel, and Andrew Bynum returns to help shore up the paint.

Moreover, the Lakers have, to some degree, been a victim of their own dominance, insofar as defensive numbers are concerned. Memphis scored 59 points in the second half during their visit to Staples because the Lakers were up 27 at halftime and the game, as blowouts will in the NBA, grew sloppy. The same can be said for Portland's 60 points over the final 24 minutes Sunday night. If either game is closer, the Lakers almost undoubtedly allow fewer points.