A Breakdown of the Lakers' Terrible Defense on LeBron James

LeBron James was magnificent yesterday, hanging a triple-double on the Lakers in the Heat's blowout victory. In my initial damage assessment I wrote that "Artest got destroyed by LeBron," a statement to which a few commenters have objected on the grounds that I was being unfairly critical toward Ron's defense. So to fact-check myself, I decided this afternoon to hop onto Synergy and rewatch all of LeBron's plays from yesterday's game in the hopes of assigning blame where blame's rightly due.

I looked at every sequence in which LeBron was involved either because he took a shot, went to the free-throw line, handed out an assist or committed a turnover. For each one I took note of which Laker (or Lakers) was tasked with guarding him. I recorded the success or failure of the play and compiled the results into a table you can find after the cut.

A note about assists: for purposes of the analysis I disregarded six of LeBron's 10 recorded assists because I decided that the defense on LeBron was irrelevant to the play in question. These were all plays in which LeBron was simply tossing the ball around the perimeter, and the guy he passed to did the hard work of generating a score. There was no playmaking on LeBron's part. That's not to say that the assists were improperly credited: it's just the nature of the assist rule. In any case, this left four assists to account for in which LeBron broke down the man guarding him, causing the defense to collapse and leaving someone open for a score.

As you can see from the Popcorn Machine game flow, Artest and Matt Barnes were never on the floor at the same time. Whenever either one was in the game, he was assigned to check LeBron. There were two stretches when neither Artest nor Barnes was on the floor: one at the beginning of the second period, when LeBron himself was on the bench, and one at the beginning of the fourth period, when Kobe Bryant drew LeBron Duty. Also, scattered throughout the game were a handful of plays in which LeBron went to work against guys not assigned to him, mostly in transition situations when whoever happened to get back on D was in charge of defending the play. I've grouped these last plays into the "All Others" row you see in the table.

Defender(s)

# of Plays

FGM-FGA

FTM-FTA

Assists

Turnovers

Points

Artest

6

3-3

0-0

2

1

8

Artest/Bynum

2

1-1

2-2

0

0

5

Artest/Gasol

1

0-1

0-0

0

0

0

Barnes

3

2-3

0-0

0

0

6

Barnes/Bynum

1

1-1

0-0

0

0

2

Kobe

2

0-0

2-2

1

0

2

All Others

7

1-5

2-2

1

0

4

Totals

22

8-14

6-6

4

1

27

Where you see two defenders listed, it means that LeBron was operating as the initiator of a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop. The big man listed was the guy assigned to guard the other Miami Heat player involved in the set.

So did LeBron, in fact, destroy Artest? Yeah, kind of. There were six plays when LeBron worked one-on-one against Ron. On three of those LeBron himself scored, totaling eight points. On two others he broke Ron down and dished off for an assist. On just one instance was Ron able to generate a stop.

But there's plenty of blame to go around here. Neither Barnes nor Kobe was any more effective guarding James. And Andrew Bynum did an especially poor job on his pick-and-roll hedges: he either hedged too strong and fouled or didn't challenge aggressively enough and let LeBron get an open look. Basically, as a team the Lakers were straight hopeless when it came to stopping the man. The guys primarily responsible for frustrating him in the man to man game - Artest, Barnes and Kobe - failed completely, and they got little assistance from the bigs responsible for help D.

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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