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Boarding School: How the Lakers Got Killed on the Defensive Glass

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One of the great mysteries surrounding the 2010-11 Lakers is why they're not a better defensive rebounding team. It doesn't make a ton of sense, as they were just fine on the defensive glass last year. In terms of defensive rebounding rate, meaning the portion of their opponents' missed shots that they recovered, the Lakers ranked ninth in the NBA in 2009-10. This season they've sunk to 19th, and unless you think Jordan Farmar was the key to controlling the defensive boards, there aren't any personnel changes to account for the slippage. Granted, Andrew Bynum has missed some games, but he missed games last year too.

On Thursday night, the Lakers' weakness on the defensive boards was gruesomely apparent. The Miami Heat chased down 42% of their own misses and scored 21 second-chance points, the most by any Laker opponent since late November. The champs improved on the defensive glass in the second half of the game, but the improvement was from "atrociously horrible" to "merely bad." And much though we naturally tend to focus on what happens at the end of games, the first half counts just as much as the second.

To figure out exactly what the problems were, I rewatched and broke down every play that resulted in an offensive board for the Heat. Was it the most fun way to spend a Thursday evening? No, but I needed an idea for post and I had some time to kill before your mom got off her shift at Arby's, so I figured what the hell.

If you include "team offensive rebounds" - which occur when dudes are fighting for a board and a defensive player knocks it out of bounds, or when a defensive player is called for a loose-ball foul - the Heat last night pulled in 20 offensive rebounds total. These I divided up into the following five buckets.

  • Poor Boxout/Outworked: Just what it sounds like. A Laker was in a spot where he should've been able to collect the board, but he failed to do so because a Heat player outfought him for the ball.
  • Out of Position Because of Help Defense: The typical sequence goes like this. Dwayne Wade, say, blows by whoever's guarding him on the perimeter and drives toward the lane. As Wade pulls up at the free-throw line for a jump shot, Pau Gasol flashes toward him to contest. Wade misses the shot, but because he drew Gasol away from the rim, there's no one to box out Chris Bosh, who collects the rebound and drops it back in.
  • Ball-Watching: Let's say the Heat are running a halfcourt set from the left side. Mike Miller is in the opposite corner, guarded by Matt Barnes. As LeBron James drives toward the left baseline and pulls up for a midrange J, Miller cuts toward the basket to establish rebounding position. Barnes, however, is watching LeBron and loses track of Miller, who gets inside his defender for the tip-in.
  • Assignment Confusion: Occasionally the Laker bigs lose track of who's guarding whom. Like, if there's a down-screen near the basket, one defender might think they should switch while the other doesn't, and as a result two guys end up guarding the same dude and zero guys end up guarding someone else. That someone else can then slide in for an offensive board without anyone checking him.
  • Other: And sometimes you do everything right, and the ball just takes a weird bounce out to your opponent. It happens.

Make sense? Of course it does. With that in mind, here's how Miami's 20 offensive boards last night break down.        


Offensive Rebounds

Poor boxout/outworked................................


Out of position because of help D.................




Assignment confusion.................................




Blame for the first category falls mostly on the Laker bigs. Gasol in particular was too often either muscled aside by a Heat big man or just too slow jumping for the ball. Bynum was OK in the first half and quite good in the second.

The second category reflects more on the Laker guards and wing defenders. Both last night and on Christmas Day, the Lakers struggled to contain dribble penetration. As a result, Gasol and Bynum often had to leave their posts, so to speak, to help check ballhandlers. Of the perimeter guys, Artest was the least at fault yesterday. He had the toughest assignment, guarding LeBron James, and carried it out decently enough. Kobe Bryant's on-ball D also wasn't terrible. But Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes all had difficulty staying in front of their men.

Barnes and Brown were the guiltiest when it came to ball-watching. That's how Miller hurt the Lakers on the boards in the second period. On several occasions, he would start cutting to the hoop before the shot was even up, and by the time his man regained sight of him, it was too late.

There are a couple things about this that I find instructive. One is that when we're talking about the Lakers' defensive rebounding problem, we're actually talking about several different problems that manifest themselves in bad rebounding results. Some of it is physical: Pau has to fight harder for missed shots than he did last night. Some of it is mental: Barnes needs to maintain focus on his man, even when he's away from the main action. And some of it has to do with communication on the floor, as when botched assignments leave an opponent open under the hoop for an easy tip-in.

Also, blame for crap rebounding shouldn't land solely on the bigs. Frequently, a put-back score is just the last event in a five- or six-step defensive breakdown that began with poor dribble containment. Almost a third of the Heat's offensive boards last night were of this variety.

Basically, there are a lot of different ways to suck at rebounding. In Miami, the Lakers demonstrated just about all of them.

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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