HANG TIME NEW JERSEY BUREAU — Entering their marquee matchup with the Clippers on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV), the Lakers have won five straight games to climb to second place in the Western Conference.
The headlines will tell you that Kobe Bryant has scored 40-plus points in each of the last three, and the speculation will tell you that he’s trying to prove to Dwight Howard that he’s still got it. But the numbers tell you that the Lakers are winning games on the other end of the floor.
Through Friday, the Lakers rank just 14th in offensive efficiency, scoring 100.3 points per 100 possessions, barely above the league average of 99.9. And during this five-game winning streak, with Bryant averaging 39 points and shooting 50 percent, they’ve actually scored less than 99 points per 100 possessions. Translation: Their offense, even with Kobe going off, has been pretty mediocre.
On the other end of the floor, the Lakers rank fourth in the league, allowing their opponents to score just 94.8 points per 100 possessions. And over the last five games, the Laker D has been downright stifling, allowing less than 90 points per 100 possessions.
Of course, only one of the Lakers’ last five opponents (Phoenix) has been an above-average offensive team thus far. But the Lakers have held the five to an average of nine points per 100 possessions below their season mark.
Efficiency of last five Laker opponents
|1/6||vs. Golden State||99.1||94.4||-4.7|
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions for the season
It was thought that the Lakers’ defense might suffer with the departure of Lamar Odom, who had the lowest on-court defensive efficiency number of any Laker rotation player over the last three seasons. (From 2009-10 through last season, the Lakers allowed just 99.8 points per 100 possessions in Odom’s 7,539 minutes.)
But new head coach Mike Brown has seemingly made up for Odom’s absence. In fact, the Lakers were a top-five defense already when Andrew Bynum (their second-most important defender over the last few years) returned from his four-game suspension.
The Lakers’ defense is strong in almost every statistical category. It ranks fourth in defending 2-point shots, sixth in defending 3-point shots, third in defensive rebounding percentage, and ninth in opponent free throw rate.
The only thing the Lakers don’t do well defensively is force turnovers. In fact, they rank 29th by forcing only 13.1 turnovers per 100 possessions.
Ironically, the Clippers’ offense ranks second by committing only 13.8 turnovers per 100 possessions. Overall, though it’s been pretty inconsistent through eight games, Chris Paul‘s new team ranks sixth offensively, scoring 104.2 points per 100 possessions.
So Saturday’s matchup will be offense vs. defense. And no matter how many points that Bryant scores, it will likely be the Lakers’ defense that puts them in position to win the game.