By: Eric Pincus
The Los Angeles Lakers, four games into the 2008/9 NBA Season, have yet to lose. They're the second highest scoring team in the league (105.8 points a game) while holding their opponents to the second lowest (85.0 points).
After two explosive games against the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers, the Lakers offense hasn't quite clicked but they managed to close out the Denver Nuggets and Clippers (in the second meeting) by playing stifling defense down the stretch.
"The mantra is that defense wins ballgames. Your offense comes and goes," said Coach Phil Jackson after the game. "Good defensive nights you're going to hang in there. If you get two or three times down the court and miss, you can stay in a ballgame. If you're just relying on your offense all the time it's going to disappoint you on some level."
Admittedly his statement is pretty cliché, but that doesn't make it any less true. The Lakers as a team are shooting 43.5% from the field which is 20th in the league. The difference has been the way they've held their opponents down to 39.3% shooting, which is second only to the reigning champs, the Boston Celtics (37.6%).
Another difference with the Celtics is pace. The Lakers are getting up 4.5 more shots a game with 3.2 more free throw attempts and 2.8 more three point shots. Boston is shooting nearly the same percentage as LA (43.6%) but the Lakers are better in this early part of the season from three (45.6% - 26.8%).
The Lakers expect to get more efficient from the field but say they're more focused on maintaining the defensive edge that so clearly made Boston the better team in June.
"Offense doesn't carry you to an NBA championship," said guard Kobe Bryant on Wednesday night. "[Defense] is what we've really been focusing on."
Another area in which the Lakers have stood out is rebounding. Through four games they're leading the NBA with 51.8 boards a night. That's the benefit of starting their two seven footers, center Andrew Bynum and forward Pau Gasol.
Gasol leads the team at 10.8 boards a game while Bynum isn't far behind at 9.3. Bryant is getting solid numbers as a guard (6.3 boards a game) while forward Lamar Odom is averaging 6.5 rebounds coming off the bench.
Prolific rebounding is one example of how the team's defense is feeding its offense. Additional possession leads to more shot attempts. It's not necessarily rocket science . . .
Against the Clippers Wednesday, Bynum tied his career high with 17 rebounds before he was pulled in the closing minutes for Odom.
Was he disappointed that he was taken out before setting a career mark?
"No, I didn't even know," answered Bynum lightheartedly. "Now that you mention it I wish I would have played."
While both the Blazers and Clippers came into the season with high expectations. Neither made the playoffs last year and collectively have won just one of eight games (going into Thursday night's games).
The Nuggets hit 50 and made the postseason last year but are likely trending downward after trading away center Marcus Camby to the Clippers. Denver hosted the Lakers before the Allen Iverson/Chauncey Billups trade and has lost three of four on the season.
So how tested are the Lakers considering their competition through four games has won just two of 11?
It'll be interesting to see if LA can maintain their high paced offense, dominant rebounding and efficient defense against greater competition.
On cue, the Lakers will face the Houston Rockets at home on Sunday before a road back-to-back in Dallas and New Orleans. Upon returning to STAPLES Center, they'll host the Detroit Pistons with the newly acquired Allen Iverson.
Even if the Lakers are truly as good as they've looked the past four games, they'll definitely be tested over the next four.
Sunday is a big test going up against the Rockets. T-Mac and Yao have been strugging a little bit. Ron Artest is their best player right now. He's playing a little better than they are. Aaron Brooks is a surprise to me. He's out there lighting it up from 3. Lakers better be ready.
Edited by LALakersFan4Life, November 08, 2008 - 05:08 PM.