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Defending the Lakers is Easy

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My oldest son, ClipperMax, was born in Paris. At the time, the ClipperWife and I were working on the technology solutions for World Cup 98 in France, as we had done for World Cup 94 here in the states. We arrived in Paris in 95 when she was pregnant, Max was born in early 96, and we all lived there until the end of 98 as we worked on the project.

Many of our friends and relatives thought we were crazy to be working on such an intense project, living in a foreign country, and becoming first time parents all at the same time. But I never really got it. My mom would say to me in an incredulous tone "You mean she's going to have the baby in France?" and I'd reply "Well, I'm pretty sure people have babies in France." They'd ask what we were going to do with the baby while we both worked full time, and we'd say we'd get a fille au pair, pretty much like we would in the US -- only being in Paris we could say "fille au pair" without sounding pretentious.

My boss at the time was particularly concerned. He was a terrific individual, very earnest and caring, and concern was something he did quite well. It was kind of his thing. I usually liked to respond to any concern he had with irreverence; that was kind of my thing. In a work situation, if he asked me "Should the software work that way?" I would invariably respond "You know, should is a funny word." Or when he would ask me "Does the client need that feature?" I'd say "You know, need is a funny word." I had these little pat phrases that I'd toss off to him. And when he asked me how I was going to handle my workload and a newborn baby, I would always reply "Babies are easy."

That one always cracked him up. He had three kids of his own, and he knew all about babies, and he didn't consider them easy at all. But that was always my answer: "Babies are easy" -- and I meant it.

Now, I'll admit that my argument here is something of a semantic one. I'm not saying that babies aren't work. They are work -- they're a ton of work. But for me anyway, and I think this is true of most parents, I always knew what I had to do with a baby, and that's what I meant by easy. If the baby is crying, it's for a reason. If the baby is dirty, you need to change a diaper. If the baby is hungry, you need to feed it. If the baby wakes up in the middle of the night, you need to get out of bed and go hold it and maybe do one of the things above. Does it suck to get out of bed? Do you lose a lot of sleep? Sure. But it's not exactly difficult. You know what you need to and you do it. Easy.

And that's how I would look at the task of defending the Los Angeles Lakers if I were an NBA coach.

The truly difficult task of playing NBA defense is the reality that when you take one thing away against a good offensive team, you're giving them something else. If you double team, you're leaving somebody open. Even if you rotate, you'll be playing catch up if they reverse the ball quickly enough. So the truly difficult thing is deciding what to do. Do you double or not? Do you switch the pick and roll? Do you hedge it? Do you go under it, fight over the top? Whatever you do, you're taking away one thing, but leaving something else open.

Back in December when the Clippers played the Bulls, Derrick Rose was destroying them early. He scored 11 points and handed out 6 assists in the first quarter, accounting for 23 or Chicago's 29 points in the period. He was consistently able to get past his man and into the lane, where he either scored or found someone for an easy bucket. So Clipper coach Vinny Del Negro decided to trap him high and get the ball out of his hands. Starting in the second quarter, the Clippers sent a second defender at Rose 35 feet from the basket. But Rose calmly passed the ball to a teammate flashing to the free throw line, and from there the Bulls attacked the basket four on three. Chicago extended their one point first quarter lead to five points by halftime. All game long, whatever the Clippers did, Chicago had a counter for it, and the Bulls won by 13.

Compare that to the January 14 game against the Lakers. Kobe Bryant scored 42 points, 31 of them in the second half. From the first play of the fourth quarter, the Clippers ran two defenders at Bryant whenever he entered the front court, and he still managed to make five of six contested field goals in the quarter. But he had only a single assist in the fourth, despite facing constant double teams as the Clippers expanded their lead and won the game.

And that's why defending the Lakers is easy -- like babies are easy. It's a lot of work to be sure, and even if you play great defense Kobe may still score. But you always know what you have to do. You have to double and even triple team Kobe in late game situations, and you can do so with a reasonably high level of confidence that he's not going to look for the open man, he's going to try to score against multiple defenders. To his credit, he did make the easy pass in a key situation when the Lakers beat Dallas, as Derek Fisher made the winning three off a Kobe assist. But that seems to be the exception, not the rule.

Despite having probably the most gifted front court in basketball, the Lakers have tended to reduce Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to the role of bystanders in the offense, particularly late in games. In that January meeting, Gasol and Bynum combined for two points in the fourth. As for the rest of the Lakers roster, who can blame Kobe for not wanting to pass to those guys?

So against the Lakers, in the fourth quarter, run an extra defender at Kobe. Dare him to find the open man -- most of the time, he won't. He might still score against the double team, but at least you know what to do defensively.

See? Easy.