Thursday, October 2, 2008

Help, containment key to effective defense

As training camps open, there's one word being mentioned more frequently than any other: Defense.

And while several NBA clubs are placing more emphasis on defense this season, perhaps no team is more serious about it than Portland as described in this article from the Oregonian:

"The Blazers, it appears, really are serious about this defending stuff.  The first hour of each Blazers practice has been spent on defensive drills; the next hour in executing the concepts. The last half hour is usually spent scrimmaging."

Said POR coach Nate McMillan:  "We drill it, we drill it, we drill it, we drill it, we drill it.  Then we talk about it, we drill it, we talk about it, we drill it."

"McMillan said he asked his two stars [LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy] what needed to improve next season for the team to succeed, and he said both emphatically pointed to defense. Aldridge said a defensive light went on for him this summer, when he was part of a select team that practiced against the U.S. Olympic team. 

In those workouts, Aldridge said, it quickly became apparent to him that stars such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were intent on playing defense, and how that commitment carried over to the rest of the team."

Said Aldridge:  "After that, I knew that if those guys can put defense first - I mean, they are best in league - then in order for us to win, we have to be a better defensive team."

"Two areas in particular have been spotlighted: Help defense and containment, or preventing the ball handler from driving.  To encourage help defense, the Blazers have been working on 'overloading' defenders to the side of the court where the ball is held. 

If more players are on that side, then more players will be closer to the ball should the dribbler beat his man. In theory, this should limit the unimpeded layins that plagued the Blazers last season.

Overloading on defense was a strength of Boston last season during the Celtics' title run. Aldridge remembered in games against the Celtics that if a Blazers player got by his man, he was soon encountered by Paul Pierce, then Kevin Garnett, then Kendrick Perkins."

The Celtics team defense last season made a big impression on Aldridge:

"With Boston, it was like the whole team was guarding you," Aldridge said. "Whereas last year, I felt like we hung guys out to dry. A guy would drive against us, and I would be in the corner, Brandon would be at the top ... so we are trying to emphasize more team-defense this season."

"In conjunction with the overloading defense, the Blazers are working on "cheating", or anticipating that their teammate will need help defense. In theory, that will cut off many drives.

"Last year we were kind of scared to give up the jump shot, and they would go to the basket," Aldridge said. "Like LeBron when he went to the basket and won the game. If everyone would have cheated over, he would have had to pass it."

Also, the guards and wings have worked on pressuring the ball handler, but not getting beat, using the mantra "know your limits" when applying the pressure.

"It's pressure with containment," Roy said. "So you pressure the ball while being leery of a drive, thinking of a guy like Kobe or Wade. It's a mindset of 'pressure, pressure ... but don't get beat.' "

Says Aldridge:  "We feel like if we put defense first, we can do anything.'