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November 15, 2010, 02:50 AM ET
Lakers’ Three-Point Defense Regresses Violently to the Mean

by Kevin Pelton

As discussed in Pro Basketball Prospectus 2010-11, one of the reasons SCHOENE’s projection for the Los Angeles Lakers this season was so low was the likelihood of regression in terms of the Lakers’ three-point defense, which was best in the league in 2009-10. What we did not anticipate is that the entire change would come in one evening. The Lakers were on the wrong end of 22 three-pointers by the Phoenix Suns Sunday night at the Staples Center, one shy of the NBA record set by the Orlando Magic in Sacramento in January 2009.

How big of a difference did one game make in the Lakers’ three-point defense? They went from allowing 34.3 percent–better than the league average of 35.7 percent, though not nearly as much so as in 2009-10, when opponents made just 32.8 percent–to 38.1 percent, which puts the Lakers 22nd in the NBA.

Sunday showed the limitations of three-point defense. If Twitter was any guide, L.A.’s defense was poor as Phoenix began heating up during the first half. The second half, by contrast, said as much about the Suns’ shooting–aided by small lineups necessitated by a knee sprain that sidelined center Robin Lopez–as it did the Lakers’ defense. Or, as Kobe Bryant put it after the game, “We put guys in the gym by themselves, it’s tough to shoot that percentage from three.”

The most remarkable aspect of the night might have been the fact that Phoenix still needed to sweat out a victory despite the hot shooting. It was not until the Suns made their 22nd and final triple with 34 seconds left–a catch, fake and shoot by Hedo Turkoglu with a defender in front of him that was Turkoglu’s only shot of the fourth quarter–that the lead was really secure. As Phoenix’s strength was on display, so too was the team’s glaring weakness. Led by nine from Pau Gasol, the Lakers collected 20 offensive rebounds against just 22 Suns defensive boards. All the second chances helped the Lakers keep up much of the game, before trading twos for threes proved too difficult.

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