Deng & Nance Jr. Ready to Return Against Dallas

The last time these two teams played it was arguably the Lakers worst loss of the season, as the Mavericks exploited the Lakers poor high pick and roll defense time and time again in the second half. Fortunately, Luol Deng and Larry Nance Jr. have been cleared to play on Sunday, and Nance Jr.’s mobility and athleticism can help stifle Dallas’ PnR success. The Lakers will also need to avoid unnecessary switching that creates defensive mismatches and find a way to attack the 2-3 Zone, which has confounded the Lakers in their two losses against the Mavericks. Let’s take a look at a few examples from last game where the Lakers need to adjust in order to get their 17th win of the season.

Communication Breakdown

Near the end of the second quarter in their last matchup, Dallas ran high ball screens with great effect and as a result, Deron Williams had 11 assists, 8 of which stemmed from pick and roll variations.

Why it Worked: Deron Williams does a nice job pushing the ball up the court, and forcing Los Angeles’s on its heels. Jordan Clarkson is playing too high, even going over the screen despite being 30+ feet from the basket. Even so, Julius Randle compounds the problem by exerting little to no effort and playing too far off the screen, allowing Williams to accelerate, thus taking away Clarkson’s ability to recover. Randle remains in no man’s land, allowing an easy bounce pass to Dwight Powell. Lou Williams is also in no man’s land, playing too far out of the paint to tag Powell, giving him a clear runway to the hoop.

How to Adjust: Dallas demolished Los Angeles in the second half in large part to running simple high ball screens. Plays like this explain the criticism of Randle that he isn’t as engaged on the defensive end as he should be. He needs to be more aware when calling out the screen to alert Clarkson and exert more effort by getting in a defensive stance and shuffling his feet to cut off Deron Williams. Clarkson needs to show better defensive awareness by not going over a screen 30+ feet away from the goal, while Lou Williams need to be positioned with one foot in the lane to cut off Powell’s path to the basket. Any time you give up a dunk in a half-court set, something has gone seriously wrong.

Switching it Up

The prevailing theme in both disappointing losses was the porous defense against ball screens. In their last matchup, the Mavericks also ran a high number of 1-3 screens using Barnes to isolate and attack the switches the Lakers made.

Why it Worked: In the moments before the video begins, the Mavericks get the switch they want with Harrison Barnes being guarded by Russell. Afterwards, the ball gets swung around to the other side of the court to allow Barnes to get better positioning on Russell. Deng anticipates what is about to take place, but it too late in coming over to double. Once the ball gets swung back around, Seth Curry passes over Russell to Barnes, and at 6’8, Barnes can shoot over Russell and hit the fade away jumper without disruption.

How to Adjust: The Lakers would be best served by blitzing to force the ball handler to look elsewhere, using their length to take away passes in case that Barnes decides to slip the screen. If a switch is made, the Lakers should make a hard double and force Barnes to pass out, or take a much more difficult shot. This could lead to blown rotations, but the Lakers could ill afford to let Barnes get in a rhythm early by taking easy jumpers over smaller defenders.

In the Zone

The Mavericks run more zone defense (particularly 2-3 zone) than any other team in the league. Zone defenses aren’t very popular in the NBA, but it has flummoxed the Lakers in their past two appearances.

Why it Worked: This brief play encapsulates how the Lakers were unable to figure out how to attack the Dallas zone. The Lakers’ set doesn’t free up any shooters or create separation, so Clarkson is forced to hoist a contested 3 with the shot clock running down.

How to Adjust:  The Lakers should spread the court with a 1-guard front, and get the ball into the high post as much as possible. It is imperative though that whoever is in the high post can collapse the defense and pass out to shooters. If the Lakers are able to get the ball into Randle or Ingram’s hands in the high post and their shooters are able to hit open shots, it would force Dallas to return to man to man.

Notes: The Mavericks have a -4.7 Net Rating this season, but have improved since the start of the new year (-1.9). The Lakers (48%) and the Mavericks (47.2%) are the two worst teams in the league in Opponent Field Goal percentage. Dallas also gives up the highest Opponent 3 point percentage (40.2), which is partially due to them frequently running Zone defense. Each team will try to dictate tempo in their favor, as the Lakers play at the 6th fastest pace (100.41), while Dallas runs the slowest pace of any team in the league (93.29).

Michael Taylor (@LFRMBT)is LFR’s 1st round draft pick. Much like Luke Walton with Brandon Ingram, we think that the best thing for Michael’s development is a lot of hands-on experience, producing Game Previews, Post-Game Reports, and various other articles for us.