Thursday's number: 102.65

This would be the Lakers defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) in two games since Kobe Bryant returned from his 18-day layoff tending to his injured left ankle. As I noted over the weekend, in the five games Kobe missed L.A. was nearly impenetrable, holding opponents to 91.52 points per 100 trips.

It wasn't a sustainable pace- through Wednesday L.A.'s season long mark of 99.3 is second in the NBA behind Boston's 99.1- but obviously this week has seen a regression. One explanation beyond the natural ebb and flow of a season suggests the Lakers relaxed little with Kobe back on the floor, losing the do-or-die mentality they had on seemingly every stand in his absence. Another, though, is far more practical:


Apparently, having Kobe back makes it open season to treat the ball with the same respect teenagers tend to afford their parents. 17 giveaways against Memphis, 17 more against Dallas. This for a squad with the league's second best turnover rate, against two teams not exactly noted for their ball-hawking (Memphis is 20th in opponents TOR, Dallas 16th). There is no defense for those.

102.65 isn't a grotesque, Warriors-like figure (it would be about 10th in the NBA), but given the inconsistencies in the Lakers' offense, any slippage guarding their bucket can be significant, emphasizing the need to fix what ails them scoring the ball.

Currently, the Lakers are 11th in the league in offensive efficiency at 106 points per 100 possessions, almost four points off last year's mark. For the last five games, the output has hovered near or below 100 (bottom feeder territory). A year ago, they were able to paper over lesser efforts defensively by cranking up their inner points juggernaut. They knew implicitly they could score with any team in the NBA.

This year, the safety net has some holes.

I'm not trying to make this a "Kobe problem," either. Not the point. The Lakers have plenty of issues hurting them relative to last season. Yes, there are big picture balance questions between Kobe and Co., but Andrew Bynum still tends to get the sort of tunnel vision in the post sticking the ball, Pau Gasol has not of been his uber-economical self of late, and the outside shooting remains a problem, particularly against better defensive teams refusing to let Kobe/L.A.'s dominant front court beat them without a fight.

And as we always stress, bad offense hurts on the other end, not just because points are more precious but because poor shot selection and a lack of rhythm throw off transition defense and create mismatches the opposition can exploit.

The Lakers are a very good defensive team. That they've lost two of three while turning in one outstanding performance on that end (Boston) and two flawed-but-good-enough efforts (Memphis and Dallas) is more an indication of lingering offensive problems.