Picking Up The Pace
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The impetus for the Lakers' air-it-out session last Saturday in Orlando was how poorly the team felt it was performing on the defensive end, particularly how they were having problems defending the pick-and-roll.
Any improvements Los Angeles has made in stopping the screen-roll will be put to the test Friday in Phoenix against one of the most proficient pick-and-roll teams in the league.
"Phoenix is a tough team to play defense against," Kobe Bryant said after Thursday's practice. "Screen-roll, they run a great deal of it. They run it differently than other teams in terms of having four shooters space the floor and guys that can pick and pop, so it will be different than even what we're used to usually defending."
The last time the Lakers played the Suns, a 118-103 Phoenix win on Dec. 28, Steve Nash had his way with L.A., racking up 13 assists while making three of the Suns' 12 3-pointers.
After the loss Bryant said the Lakers were confused about their defensive rotations. Part of it was because Los Angeles was without Ron Artest, as the forward was in the midst of a five-game absence because of a fall on Christmas Day. But the confusion also occurred because Nash puts the defense in a quandary whenever he runs the pick-and-roll with a teammate like Amare Stoudemire, for example.
What do you do? Go over the screen to cut off Nash's ability to get a shot off, knowing that he shoots 50.6 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from deep? Then Nash puts it on the floor and Stoudemire, all 6-foot-10, 249 pounds of him, rolls to the basket looking for a lob or a bounce pass as he cuts through the lane. Stay under the screen and allow Nash the shot? Switch when the screen comes and leave a big man on Nash and hope he doesn't get burned off the dribble or that Nash doesn't feed it to Stoudemire for an easy 15-foot jump shot that he'll get a clear look at because a smaller guard will be on him?
Friday Game Notes
• LeBron James is expected to return to action at Philadelphia after a two-game hiatus. In the nine regular-season games that James has played in his NBA career that immediately followed a DNP, he's posted per-game averages of 23.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists (compared to his overall career averages of 27.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.9 assists). James has played three regular-season games in his career coming off two or more games missed (as he'll be doing Friday) and averaged 20.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game.
• The Pacers have a 9-6 record this season against teams from the Atlantic Division, compared to a 12-37 (.245) mark against all other teams. The Pacers are at least three games below the .500 mark against teams from each of the NBA's five other divisions.
• Manu Ginobili, starting in place of the injured Tony Parker, scored 38 points at Cleveland on Monday and 28 points against the Knicks on Wednesday. Ginobili has never scored more than 25 points in each of three consecutive games in his NBA career.
• The slumping Bulls, who have lost six straight games, have allowed at least 100 points in each of their last nine games, the team's longest single-season streak of that type in 20 years. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Co. gave up 100 or more points in nine consecutive games in January/February 1990. Chicago has been outscored by 102 points (17 ppg) during the six-game losing streak.
Schedule: Friday, March 12
Start Daniels In Boston?
In what amounts to the fourth quarter of the 2009-10 season, Boston doesn't have time for trial and error. So what sort of moves could Doc Rivers make to spice things up?
Here's one idea. The Celtics could examine moving Marquis Daniels into the starting lineup in place of Ray Allen. At a time when Boston is clearly struggling to generate open looks for Allen, maybe it makes more sense to get a slasher on the floor like Daniels, who is sure to remove some stagnancy from the first unit with his tireless movement.
What's more, Daniels is one of Boston's top defenders, allowing him to guard the opposing team's best player and taking some of that pressure off Paul Pierce early in games.
Not Your Father's Team
SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- The sounds coming out of the gym from the most boisterous shootaround I've ever heard were nothing compared to the sight that came afterward: Nearly all of the Oklahoma City Thunder's players and coaches walking the four blocks from Santa Monica High School back to their seaside hotel together.
"How many teams do you see do this?" wondered assistant coach Maurice Cheeks, looking around at the players in hooded sweatshirts, some with ice bags still wrapped around their knees, strolling down the street.
The answer is the same number of teams that treat days off like mandatory workouts, the number of teams that could collectively be nominated for "Most Improved," the number of teams whose general managers are quick to spit rhymes from The Roots. The answer is one: the Oklahoma City Thunder.