Clippers Get Another Look At Lakers New Defense

When the Clippers lost to the Lakers last week, they had a very tough night shooting — they scored just 79 points and hit only 38.5% of their shots. But the Clippers are not alone in their frustration. The Lakers are off to a 3-0 start, and the biggest reason is a new and improved defense.

Teams are shooting just 39.4% against them (last season that was 44.5%) and have scored just 84 points per game (down from 101 last season). Why the transformation in the Lakers defense? Two reasons. One, a new defensive system the Lakers broke out this year called the “strong side zone.” The second, and maybe more important reason, is that the players really seem to have bought into the system and are working hard on defense.

That system they seem to like is a modified zone. Simply put, whatever side of the court the opponents have the ball on, the Lakers do two things: 1) They pressure the ball with one defender; 2) They try to slide another defender (usually Pau Gasol , Lamar Odom or Andrew Bynum) over to the side the ball is on (or strong side).

For example, if the Clippers Baron Davis gets the ball on the wing, Derek Fisher might be out pressuring him and taking away the jump shot, but he is also “shading” him, trying to get him to drive one direction — right to where the additional help is now located. Essentially, trying to drive him into a trap.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said that the motivation for this change in philology is how referees are calling the game. His old Bulls and even early Lakers teams could take away penetration by being far more physical with a player out on the perimeter, putting hands on the guy with the ball in slowing him down.

But a few years back the NBA changed how it wanted referees to interpret the rulebook — just touching a guy on the perimeter became a foul. Because of that, nobody singlehandly can slow a Chris Paul or a Paul Pierce (or a Kobe Bryant).

What the Lakers are doing with this strong-side zone is slowing the penetration by overloading the side with the ball. It’s working, so far.

"We can score 80 to 100 points every night with the talent we have," said Jordan Farmar. "It's just about how we can hold other teams to tough nights and make them take tough shots. If we can do that every night and really be consistent and be professionals about it we can be really special." The Clippers will try to break through the Lakers defense — and pick up their first win of the season — with the lineup they were hoping to see to start the season, with Davis running the point and Marcus Camby at the power forward.

That planned starting lineup (which also includes Cuttino Mobley, Al Thorton and Chris Kaman) played a few minutes together in the Clippers loss to the Jazz on Monday, showing rust but also flashes of what could be. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. for what is technically a Lakers home game at Staples Center.

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