Problems for Lakers Rest With Defense

The Lakers are one defeat away from elimination after Tuesday’s dramatic 96-94 Game 5 loss to the San Antonio Spurs not because of Robert Horry’s three-point miss near the buzzer and not because Shaquille O’Neal didn’t have a monster effort.

The three-time defending champions are on the ropes because of their failure to play defense for 2 1/2 quarters. Which is something that should not happen at this time of year from a playoff-tested team that definitely knows better.

The Spurs basically did anything they wanted on offense. Their half-court sets worked because the Lakers played horrible on-the-ball defense and their rotations were even worse. And when the Spurs wanted to run, they found the Lakers even more giving as they failed to hustle back down the court.

A breakdown of Game 6:


LAKERS’ MOVE -- Being more aggressive defending the Spurs’ bread-and-butter pick-and-roll plays would be a good place to start. When the Lakers made their run in the fourth quarter of Game 5, they not only made shots but they helped each other better on defense. The Laker big men stepped out to slow penetration and did not hesitate to switch back to the Spurs’ post players.

You can always tell if the Lakers are ready to play by how they defend the pick and roll, especially O’Neal and Horry. When they are active and moving their feet, the Laker perimeter players have a better chance of cutting off penetration angles to the basket by San Antonio’s guards. When the Laker big men don’t defend well, the Spur offense runs smoothly.

San Antonio’s Tim Duncan is certainly a difficult player to defend but there are some things that give him problems. Slava Medvedenko did a decent job of using his strength and speed to force Duncan to set up farther away from the basket than he likes, and O’Neal did the same when he defended him late in the fourth quarter. Don’t be surprised to see the Lakers go with them more tonight if Horry continues to struggle.

On offense, it’s the same old thing with the Lakers. They need to space the floor, set solid picks, cut aggressively to the basket and pass the ball to the open man.


SAN ANTONIO’S MOVE -- The Spurs helped the Lakers’ comeback Tuesday by taking ill-advised quick perimeter shots and attempting too many low-percentage passes in traffic. The Spurs are at their best when they methodically attack on offense and that did not happen in the fourth quarter of Game 5.

Bruce Bowen has to continue to make things difficult for Kobe Bryant by forcing him into one-on-one battles every time he has the ball. If they played a one-on-one game, put your money on Bryant, but when that happens, the Spurs have an advantage because that often leaves the rest of the Lakers standing in place.

On offense, the Spurs should give the Lakers a heavy dose of pick-and-roll plays until they stop working. Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson, Speedy Claxton and Tony Parker excel when they have screens to work with. The Spur offense became stagnant Tuesday because they went too much with isolation plays involving Duncan.