Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, right, has been focusing more on defense as of late, which could be the key to ending the Lakers' struggles. (Photo : Reuters)
Perhaps the best offense...is a good defense.
Or, at least, that's what Kobe Bryant and the L.A. Lakers are betting on, with Bryant's new resurgence on the defensive end of the floor.
In the last two games, Bryant has put up eyebrow-raising performances on his "D," putting tremendous pressure on lethal scorers such as Cleveland's Kyrie Irving and Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings that has been instrumental in the Lakers' pair of wins against both teams. L.A. continues to try an build momentum in a struggling season.
On Sunday, Bryant clamped down hard, against Irving, holding last season's Rookie of the Year to 15 points, which is eight points below Irving's 23.0 point season average in 2012-13.
"I thought Kobe set the tone hawking the ball with (Kyrie) Irving," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Defense was much better with Dwight back in there."
Cavaliers coach Byron Scott also took notice of the intensity picking up in Bryant's defense.
"Kobe starting on Kyrie and some of the other match-ups they had, they came out much more aggressive," Scott said to the L.A. Times. "They didn't just sit back. They were the initiator, and I thought that was the biggest difference."
The trend continued on Tuesday, when Bryant brought his defensive "A-game" against Milwaukee's Jennings. While the effort to shut down the 23-year-old Jennings left Bryant, 34, a little tired, it was definitely effective; Jennings, averaging 18.3 points this season, finished with only 12 points while Bryant put up 31 as the Lakers whipped the Bucks 101-88.
The new "D"-minded Bryant made sure that Jennings would remember that effort.
"For the whole game, I don't think I've ever seen a guard put that much pressure on a point guard full-court," Jennings told the L.A. Times. "It's probably the best defense anybody's played on me since I've been in the league. He was constantly putting pressure on me, touching me, and hitting me at all times . . . It was pretty difficult."
The lack of defense, a usual critique of D'Antoni's fast-paced offensive game, has certainly been a problem this season for the Lakers, who are near the bottom of the league in points allowed (ranked 26 overall, allowing 101.5 points per game).
Which makes Bryant's contributions all the more valuable.
The issue now is how to spread it to the rest of the team, and whether Bryant can keep up the pace long enough to inspire his teammates to do the same. Defense was a staple of the championship eras of the Lakers under Pat Riley and, later, Phil Jackson.
Recently, former Lakers greats Magic Johnson has criticized the Lakers' current defense, tweeting that the team has to pay more attention to both their pick-and-roll and perimeter defenses and calling out forward Metta World-Peace, telling him to step up as a stopper.
Bryant, who has also been criticized for not playing defense consistently his entire career, has familiarity with playing defense on an intense level.
"I kind of grew up doing that in Phil's system, defensively just harassing the ball," Bryant said. "He liked to have the lead guard. That's something that I've become very familiar with doing."
"What he's doing defensively and how he's setting the tone is incredible," D'Antoni said of Bryant.
Which is good, because the Lakers need to make as many stops as possible in order to get a much-needed winning streak going.