The Los Angeles Lakers mounted a miraculous comeback against the New Orleans Hornets Wednesday night in the second half of their road back-to-back. Both offensive and defensive execution crisp and the 20+ point hole the Lakers were buried in wound up a narrow victory that was a stunning victory. In part 1 of this edition of The Playbook, we'll take a look at how the Lakers defense, and Dwight Howard, held the Hornets to a mere nine points in the fourth quarter while their offense chipped away at the lead.
Howard's domination the Hornet's pick and roll game is most notable, but the team as a whole did a great job and played with a defensive intensity and cohesion that has been a rarity this season. Still, the fact that Howard had four fouls through the majority of this stretch, and didn't pick up his fifth until late in the quarter, speaks volumes to how active and precise he was on defense after a tough first half.
Now, onto a comprehensive breakdown of how the Lakers dominated on defense with their engaged big man anchoring the paint.
The Hornets took to high screens through the majority of the fourth quarter.
As Vasquez turns on the burners Dwight shifts with him. Howard moved his feet well throughout the fourth quarter and shut down the dribble penetration that so commonly plagues the Lakers defense.
With Vasquez's drive thwarted, Jodie Meeks is able to catch up and the Lakers trap Vasquez. He has only one option, to kick it out to the perimeter.
Steve Blake recovers, though a bit late. Still, the three-point attempt misses after Dwight shut down the dribble penetration.
Ryan Anderson sets a screen for Vasquez, which he will slip to the top of the arc.
Antawn Jamison immediately shadows Anderson, which leaves Meeks out of position to stop the drive from Vasquez. Howard has already rotated and is ready to help.
Meeks is left behind, and Vaseuz continues his drive into Dwight.
Howard contests the shot, which turns into a missed field goal.
He then comes down and grabs the board between two Hornets players.
Ah, good defense creates transition opportunities, so Blake pushes the ball up. Meeks runs the floor on the weak side.
Which pays off, because the entire Hornets defense is ignoring Meeks, who continues to creep his way up the court.
Blake penetrates into the paint and finds Meeks alone on the perimeter.
Here, Lopez will hand the ball off to Vasquez and set a screen for him.
Meeks runs right into it, which leaves Howard to stop him.
Howard gets down into a defensive stance and picks up the point guard.
Vasquez tries to shake him but Howard moves his feet and gets in front of him again. Vasquez does have an open man in the corner, but the amount of pressure being applied with Howard, and the time he buys Meeks to recover, rattles Vasquez. Also worth noting is Kobe Bryant is helping the helper, which is something the Lakers have struggled with all season.
And it pays off as Vasquez decides to force the ball to Lopez. Kobe is there to contest the shot.
The rebound hits the floor and the urgency shows itself again as both Meeks and Bryant fight for the ball.
The ball eventually goes out of bounds off of the Hornets. Notice: a Laker (Meeks) actually hit the floor while fighting for a loose ball!
Anderson is defended tightly by Metta World Peace. Lopez is going to sneak baseline and free himself from Howard.
Anderson catches it and delivers a pass. Howard is already moving to the ball. Blake has cheated away from his man to help on the weak side.
Howard recovers quickly, and Blake is also there to attack Lopez.
The shot misses and both big men go up for the board. Howard has the presence of mind to tap the ball to an area occupied by his teammates.
Another high screen action between Lopez-Vasquez.
Vasquez goes over the top of the screen and will once again be challenged by Howard.
Again, no dribble penetration allowed out of the pick and roll as Howard's in great position.
A subtlety about Howard stopping the initial attack from the dribble penetration is that it buys time for the defender he's helping to recover and get back into the play. Lopez is rolling to the rim, but now Vasquez has to string a pass between both Howard and Nash.
He gets the pass off while Howard jumps up to challenge it.
And it turns into a turnover off of Lopez, who couldn't hang onto the pass.
It wasn't just Howard, though. The team pushed themselves defensively and it was glorious to watch. Here, Vasquez has the ball at the corner of the arc. Eric Gordon is going to cut through the key from Vasquez while Meeks chases him.
Meeks does a great job of fighting through traffic and staying with his man. Now, Anderson is going to set a screen and slip it almost immediately. World Peace is going to hedge hard to help Meeks.
Gordon is stopped in his tracks but has Anderson open on the perimeter now.
World Peace does an ridiculous job of recovering on Anderson, who then decides to put the ball on the floor while Nash rotates to help as well.
Anderson continues his drive and Howard moves closer to help.
ARMS UP! Both Howard and World Peace crowd and suffocate Anderson, remaining patient and not fouling. Anderson is stuck and is called for a travel.
Fancy that, a high pick and roll. Gordon is the ball-handler in this set.
Lopez creates space with the pick, leaving Howard as the only defender to beat. Howard is already moving his feet and in a defensive stance.
Gordon tries to shake free from Howard, but he's in a groove at this point defensively and shutting everything down.
Again, with the time bought, Meeks recovers and the Lakers' defense has Gordon trapped.
He takes the shot over Dwight's outstretched hand but it's off the mark.
Another high screen attempt.
Vasquez gets by Nash, but Howard is there to receive him once again. Kobe is in position to rotate and help Dwight should Lopez roll.
Vasquez is stopped by Howard and now Nash is back in the picture defensively.
With no way to get into the paint, Vasquez settles for a mid-range jumper, which misses over Dwight's challenge. Lopez is in great position to grab the rebound however, as Dwight is so far out and in the air. The Mamba is lurking, though.
Lopez misses the rebound and Kobe pulls it down. Another great defensive sequence, which will turn right back into transition offense.
Kobe pushes the ball up the court and drives right into the paint.
He is bodied up, but still pushes towards the rim.
And now for a lesson in footwork as he spins off of his defender.
And gets to the rim for an easy two. Lakers down five now.
Another example of great team defense here. Gordon will take an off-ball screen from Lopez while Meeks is in hot pursuit.
Meeks stays with him, but Anderson sets another screen as soon as Gordon has the ball.
Meeks fights under the screen and Gordon clears the ball out to Vasquez, who has Nash on him tightly.
Lopez sets another screen, but it's going to funnel right into Dwight.
With the dribble penetration stopped, Vasquez swings the ball over to Anderson at the top of the arc.
Metta hounds Anderson and challenges the shot.
Dwight and Robin both jump up for the board but Lopez pulls it down.
Lopez tries to get the ball up but Howard challenges it and causes the miss. His secondary explosion was almost instant.
And he comes down with the board. Time for transition.
Kobe takes the ball up and, again, the Hornets defense loads up on one side which leaves Meeks completely alone.
M33KS! Two-point game.
No pick and roll here, but Nash on a mismatch against Al-Farouq Aminu.
Vasquez finds the mismatch and gets the ball to Aminu. Howard rotates to help.
Aminu's path to the rim is cut off and he is forced to pass the ball cross-court.
Metta and Meeks close out on the shooter, but Gordon is at the top of the key (out of the frame). Nash sprints to the perimeter.
Shot challenged, and a miss. Lakers still down two.
High screen and roll with Lopez and Vasquez.
Oh look a wild Dwight appeared to stop the penetration!
Kobe recovers and now Vasquez is trapped by the two, he maintains his dribble, however.
Vasquez resets and Anderson now sets a screen.
Kobe eats the screen pretty badly, but Metta is there as he hedged and will now shift his feet to keep up with Greivis.
Once again, Dwight is there. YOU SHALL NOT PASS.
Vasquez takes the shot over Dwight and World Peace but it's no good.
A quick and easy play, but one that shows how intense and focused the Lakers were on defense. The Hornets are trying to inbound the ball to Gordon, who is tied up with Meeks to start.
Gordon breaks "free", though Meeks is squeezing the space between the bench and Gordon.
So much so that the referee calls Gordon for stepping out of bounds. (The game is tied 102-102 with under a minute, we'll see more of how that happened in the offensive breakdown).
With the Lakers now up two there are only 30 seconds left in the game. Gordon will drive past Jodie.
Howard is ready to rotate and challenge Gordon at the rim.
Gordon, however, passes it to Lopez. Howard immediately turns.
Then goes up and blocks Robin cleanly. In about one second Dwight completely changed directions, got up, and stuffed Robin Lopez.
Video of the swat:
With under 24 seconds left the Lakers have pushed their lead to four points. Lopez has the ball and will hand it off to Roger Mason as he streaks to the top of the arc.
Metta goes over the top of Lopez to man-up with Mason.
Mason tries to drive into space for a three-point attempt.
Metta uses that lightning fast left hand and slaps the ball out of Mason's hands masterfully.
Roger, you forgot something.
It was an absolutely wild game as the Lakers climbed back into a game they had no business being in. Their first half molasses, and inability to close the gap in the third quarter, should have been enough to shut the door. The team as a whole picked up their activity defensively, led by Howard who was a relentless guard dog against dribble penetration. In part two of the breakdown that will be released Friday, we'll take a look at how the Lakers' offense executed down the stretch. Though, as shown here, their transition offense benefited from a great defensive effort that rattled the Hornets.
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