Lakers’ defense remains an issue

The volume in Jordan Hill’s voice grew. The pauses between sighs prolonged.

After providing endless energy on hustle plays as both a Lakers reserve and starter, Hill appeared visibly frustrated that hasn’t spilled toward his teammates on defense.

“We rely on our offense instead of our defense,” Hill said. “When an opponent scores, we feel like we have to come down and get a score. But if we defend and stop our opponent from scoring, our offense will become easier.”

That hasn’t happened all season.

The Lakers rank 29th out of 30 NBA teams in both total defense (103.48 points per game) and fast-break points allowed (17.7). Attention fantasy basketball owners: opponents are destined to notch career-highs against the Lakers defense.

Among the candidates: Toronto forward Amir Johnson (32 points), New Orlean’s Anthony Davis (32), Washington’s Nene (30) and Denver’s Timofey Mozgov (23). When they play Friday in Oklahoma City (16-4), the Lakers (10-11) will face the NBA’s leading scorer in Kevin Durant (29 points per game) and a speedy point guard in Russell Westbrook.

Plenty of the blame falls on Pau Gasol, whose mild sprain in his right ankle has partly contributed to poor foot speed.

“It starts from an individual but the team defense has to be able to cover up certain individual mistakes or breakdowns,” Gasol said. “That’s when the team defense and the scrambling out there, hustling comes into play.”

But the problems go beyond Gasol.

In the Lakers’ 114-108 loss Tuesday to the Phoenix Suns, coach Mike D’Antoni featured Shawne Williams and Jodie Meeks in the starting lineup in hopes of adding speed and three-point shooting around Kobe Bryant. Though D’Antoni made the move to accommodate Bryant’s rustiness, the switch left solid defenders Robert Sacre and Wesley Johnson to the bench. Incidentally, Phoenix scored 56 points in the paint and outrebounded the Lakers, 43-33.

“We’re going to have to man up a little bit more,” D’Antoni said. “We’re going to have to toughen up. It’s going to have to be a dog fight for a while.”

How so?

“We have to be more aggressive, talk more and contain our guy more,” Hill said. “We have to go out there and play hard nosed defense. We’re going to score at will. Nobody is going to stop us from scoring. But we put too much pressure on our offense. We have to focus on our defense more and go out and contain our man.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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  • Dragon7s

    “It starts from an individual but the team defense has to be able to
    cover up certain individual mistakes or breakdowns,” Gasol said. “That’s
    when the team defense and the scrambling out there, hustling comes into
    play.”

    Unfortunately, the rest of the team has to primarily make up for Gasol’s inability to defend the opposing big man by himself.
    Against the Kings, Gasol (or whoever was on Cousins at the time, would body up when the ball went inside to DM and then one of the guards would drop down to harass him so that he wasn’t able to make a move to the basket and was forced to kick it back out.

    I’ve not seen that type of rotation the last two games.
    The Lakers interior defender has been left alone to defend by himself while the guards stick to their man.

    The Lakers problems on defending the paint are two-fold:
    1. Our big men can’t defend one on one, full stop.
    2. Our guards aren’t able to slow down nor stop the dribble drive into the paint.

    If the Lakers can rotate on defense to limit either of those, our defense gets much better. (Not saying that they can stop both because the reality is we just don’t have the elite defenders that can handle that.)
    However, there needs to be better communication on defense and guys need to man up and do whatever it takes on the defensive end.
    If they do that, the offense takes care of itself.

    Not sure how you get everyone to buy into that but unless it happens, and happens soon, teams will ‘paint’ the Lakers right out of the playoffs.