LeBron James hasn’t been a part of an All-Defensive team since 2013, but he has played in a handful of great defensive units throughout his career. Also, as suspect as he occasionally is in that department, James actually plays solid defense when he wants to – we’ll let you decide if that makes him a good or bad defender.
Whichever it may be, James is currently playing a part inside a defensively sound Lakers unit. All that effort has in fact carried the Los Angeles Lakers to its first Western Conference Finals appearance in 10 years.
While The Lake Show is certainly capable of showcasing good ball movement, exciting open floor action, and high-scoring performances, their ability to clamp down and force tough looks for the opposition are just as commendable.
This postseason run has actually allowed James to look back at his old teams. In a recent interview with Anthony Slater of The Athletic, he discussed their unique builds and what each team was able to do defensively.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of great defensive teams … Mike Brown was a defensive coach, and we played some exceptional basketball on the defensive end my early days in Cleveland. In Miami, we flew around. We weren’t the biggest team, but we had great length, great speed and [Erik Spoelstra] challenged us to use our speed to cover the interior and get out to the exterior as well, so we flew around.”
Mike Brown stamped his defensive influence on the Cavs during LeBron’s first stint there. It lacked firepower outside of James, but they were still able to establish a strong defensive reputation. They finished top six in fewest points allowed in three out of five seasons, and ranked first in 2008-09.
In Miami, James led a very talented group that quickly became among the elites in defense – it also helped that Spoelstra was also a defensive-minded coach. The Heat ranked top five in points allowed or defensive rating in each of his four seasons with the team.
James isn’t discounting the abilities of his current core, though. He’s very proud of the group and how it includes a handful of All-Defensive team members:
“But this [Lakers team] is a really good defensive team, too. We have multiple first-team all-defensive players. We have Defensive Players of the Year in A.D. and Dwight [Howard]. Before the shutdown, Avery [Bradley] has been a part of so many first-team, second-team defenses. Danny was on a team last year. I’m not quite sure if I’ve been on any, but I know what I can do on the defensive end. We fly around. We protect each other.”
While they’ve had many defensive struggles in the bubble, they have somehow made up for it over the last two playoff series. With the way their defense contained Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook, and James Harden for a few games, the Lakers have jumped to third in defensive rating in the postseason (first among all the remaining teams).
The Lakers certainly have their work cut out for them in the West Finals. They’ll be facing an ultra-resilient Denver Nuggets team that rallied from 3-1 deficits in back-to-back series.
Catch Game 1 on Saturday, September 19 at 9:00 AM, Manila time. Read our game preview here.