Los Angeles Lakers: zone defense

In the NBA, teams often employ a zone defense with the same sensibility of a man watching 'Sex and the City"- more by necessity than choice, and always with a palpable sense of embarrassment tinged with shame.

Not the Dallas Mavericks.

Rick Carlisle's crew may play more zone than any team in the league, and do it very effectively. Rather than papering over weaknesses, it has enhanced strengths and helped the Mavs become a more effective defensive unit. Opposing squads frequently throw zones at the champs, attempting to mitigate their advantage in the paint while encouraging long jumpers, something the Lakers don't do particularly well, whether from 16-23 feet or beyond the arc.

Often it's an effective strategy, and the degree to which it works for the Mavs will be an important factor in the series. In three regular season games, if nothing else Dallas was able to contain Kobe Bryant.

"Sometimes against a zone, I think you over-analyze what you should or shouldn't do, instead of taking what opportunities present themselves. You still can get the ball inside, you can still get penetration, and you can still do certain things defensively against a zone, just like a man [defense]. So just don't overthink it," Derek Fisher said Sunday afternoon.

A roster of great passers in an offense demanding motion makes for plenty of ways to create looks closer to the rim, doing exactly what the Lakers try to do against a man-to-man. There is no need, Fisher said, to settle for jumpers. Still, sometimes beating a zone simply comes down to knocking down perimeter shots. "You're a pro. If somebody's going to zone and leave you open, at times you've just got to be willing to take the shots and make 'em. And if you don't make them, the coach will put somebody in who will," Fisher said.

Assuming he can find one. Based on their collective track record as shooters, such a player really isn't at Phil Jackson's disposal, though I didn't debate the point with Fish.

"You can't allow somebody to think that they can put two people [on the other side of the floor] and just leave you standing out here. It's just not possible," he continued. "So yeah, at times get the ball inside, but at other times you've got to make them pay for not respecting your abilities. Then once they come out after you make a couple, then you go inside."

It's interesting to hear him speak so openly about the "macho" factor at work. Little is more insulting to a player than being left alone on the floor, dared to shoot. It's hard not to fire away, even if getting him to do just that is entirely the point. As a matter of percentages, the Mavs would certainly benefit from the Lakers hoisting jumpers without discretion.

During last season's Western Conference Finals, an undersized Phoenix team threw a ton of zone at L.A., generally out of necessity. The Lakers at times struggled to execute, helping extend a series that might otherwise have been shorter. Dallas zones up far better and is a more dangerous team overall. There's nothing wrong with an open perimeter look against the zone, particularly one generated by solid execution instead of ego or impatience. As Fisher points out, they can't and shouldn't be avoided. For the Lakers, it's a matter of showing patience, moving themselves and the ball, and making sure they don't take a jumper with 17 seconds remaining on the shot clock likely available with seven.

That said, they'll still need to shoot well enough to keep the Mavericks honest, and remove one of their potential defensive weapons.

Yes, Virginia, they can score against a zone

January, 20, 2011
1/20/11
2:54
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
One of the more common questions we get- particularly after losses- is whether or not the triangle can work against zone defenses. The answer is yes. It has, and will continue to, particularly if teams run with it for extended periods of time (look at the diminishing returns for the Suns last year with their zone during the Western Conference Finals).

Teams zone up the the Lakers in part because they believe L.A. will not have the discipline to find the seams and create the sorts of easy looks that can become available, particularly with a roster full of great passers. Instead, the goal, often successful, is to have them settle for jumpers.

For a good illustration of how the offense can succeed against a zone, check out this post by Sebastian Pruiti at NBAPlaybook.com, breaking down a successful first half moment from Wednesday night's loss in Dallas. Bottom line: Just as it is with the Sundance Kid, when faced with a zone, the Lakers are better when they move.

(H/T: TrueHoop)

Out of the zone

November, 6, 2010
11/06/10
4:24
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Among the myriad problems for the Lakers in Friday's 108-103 win over Toronto was their ability to handle the moments in which the Raptors threw a 2-3 zone defense their direction. Suddenly, the league's most efficient offense got a little loose. The Lakers posted only 22 points in the quarter (their third lowest quarter this season, which is actually very impressive after six games) thanks in part to questionable shot selection. Of their 22 field goal attempts, eight were three's. Only two dropped, leading to open floor opportunities for the Raptors, who piled up 11 fast break points and 16 points in the paint, overall.

"I thought they fed quite well off their zone defense," said Phil Jackson, "And we complied and took a lot of three's inside that."

Teams routinely throw zones at the Lakers, because (at least for a while) they tend to work. Certainly the Suns had some success zoning up L.A. in last year's Western Conference Finals, helping extend a series that might otherwise have been shorter. So why do zones give the Lakers so much trouble? "It's just the focus," he said. "It's about making sure penetration happens. So easy to get the ball moved around in the perimeter and say "I'm open" that's a three and shoot it, when you haven't really got the initial penetration with the ball that has to happen to create defensive misalignment."

Interestingly, Derek Fisher had a different spin on what goes wrong.

"We really believe in playing the game from the inside out. Things get a little off and a little weird if we're not getting the ball inside to Pau and inside to Andrew, and years back inside to Shaq," Fisher said Friday night. "So when a team goes to a zone and we're not able to get that penetration through getting the ball inside, things get a little off kilter. If we were a team that didn't mind shooting 30-plus three-pointers a night, I bet you we'd look a lot better in a zone. But that's not our DNA. We're not as apt to start shooting quick shots that are open in a zone, we're actually trying to force that action and still get it inside even though they're packing it in."

Possession to possession, they're both right.

(Read full post)

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
24.6 5.0 1.4 35.4
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 8.3
AssistsK. Bryant 5.0
StealsK. Bryant 1.4
BlocksE. Davis 1.2