As a seasoned veteran of the NBA 2K series the last 9 years, it should come as no surprise that learning how to play NBA Live 09 was a bit of a struggle. As many of you know, Live 09's control scheme takes some getting used to, and is a completely new experience to many, even those who have played the Live series in the past. The biggest struggles I faced early on during my gameplay experience dealt with the defensive side of the ball. I figured I would put together some quick tips to help with defense, and hopefully help some of you out that are still having a tough time keeping opponents from lighting you up. Without further delay, here are my five keys to playing successful defense in NBA Live 09.
1. Play the NBA Academy Mini-Games
I know this sounds like a complete no-brainer, but these mini-games are critical to understanding how Live 09 handles the defensive side of the ball. Within the Academy you will be given quick (and challenging) tutorials on how to properly box out for defensive rebounds, how to time your jumps for blocking shots, how to shadow an offensive ball handler, and how to counter an offensive player's "quickstrike anklebreakers." If you are new to the series, or struggling at all on the defensive side of the ball, I highly recommend spending an hour in the Academy fine tuning your defensive skills. As someone completely new to the series, I couldn't understand why the opposing offense was lighting me up and blowing past me on every possession for uncontested jumpers and layups. After I spent some time in the Academy figuring out what each button did, and how to use all the defensive tools available to me, I was able to not only play better D, but also figure out more intricacies of the defensive game.
2. Learn and Get Used To Your Players' Momentum and Movements
Live 09 does an excellent job replicating player momentum and movement. You will immediately notice a difference when playing defense with a guy like Chris Paul versus a guy like Shaq or Yao. It is extremely important to learn how players move and also how to gauge their momentum when trying to make a play. Through my personal experience, I have found that it is best to move the left stick very gently when playing defense. If you jam on the left stick with large movements (i.e. a quick motion from all the way down to all the way up), your player will move just as fast, with his momentum carrying him out of control at times. If you stay in control of your movements, and move the stick in smaller intervals, you will be able to gain more control over your defensive fronting.
When jumping for a rebound, or attempting a block, the momentum system also comes into play. Make sure that you understand your player must gather his momentum before jumping for the ball/block. Many people misinterpret this "gather" as some sort of lag/delay with the game -- this is not the case. When you are anticipating a rebound pay close attention to the player you are controlling, and how he reacts when jumping. Certain players will leap quicker (Kobe), and others will take some time to gather momentum (Ben Wallace). Good jumping technique is all about paying attention to the arc of the ball off the rim on a rebound, or the body position of an offensive player shooting the ball when going for a block. If you can nail the timing of the momentum-gather process on a player-by-player basis, you will be grabbing rebounds and blocking shots like a pro.
Boxing out is CRITICAL in this game. I have never played a hoops title before that really makes you pay attention to boxing out, and proper body positioning on rebounds. Make sure you experiment in the Academy on properly controlling your player’s body movements in the defensive post. It is very important you learn how to back into an offensive player down low in order to get better position than him on the box out. This takes some getting used to, and you have to baby the left stick to be good at it, but once you figure out how to box out consistently you will be a beast on the boards.
What you don't want to do, is just sit around and allow lay-ups all day.
3. Do Not "SPAM" the Turbo Button
This is probably one of the most important strategies for being successful on D in Live 09, and directly correlates with player momentum and movement as noted above. Due to the momentum system of the game, the turbo button that can give your player that extra boost you need can also quickly take you out of good defensive position. The single worst thing you can do when playing man-to-man defense on an opponent is hold down the turbo button while you shadow that player. The turbo button instantly adds more power/emphasis on every movement you make (this is the definition of turbo after all). The problem as I stated above is that your player's momentum is key to achieving successful body positioning on defense. The turbo button should only be used when trying to get back quickly on defense, or to run after a man who has an open look. Do not, I repeat do not, constantly hold the turbo button down the entire time you play defense. As a 2K vet this was a tough lesson to learn. I was so used to holding my turbo button while I was manning up my defender that it had almost become second nature to hold the trigger while playing a basketball title. I was frequently finding myself losing control of my defender, and getting burned for easy points.
Turbo also needs to be understood in terms of how it makes your player jump. When you hold turbo down it takes longer for your player to jump into the air. Combining turbo and jump makes your player gather for an instant longer to make a higher/more aggressive jump at the ball. Most of the time if you use this strategy to go up for a rebound you will find your player fly out of position for the ball because turbo is modifying the aggressiveness of the board attempt. To be successful on the boards make sure you learn to box out and then go up for the board without spamming your turbo. Only use your turbo button when attempting to jump out at an open shooter, or going for an aggressive block attempt on a dunk/layup.
The moral of the story is that turbo gives you a boost but also takes control away from your player -- use it wisely.
4. Know How and When to Use "Defense Assist"
OK, this is perhaps the biggest change between Live and 2K on the defensive end, and took the most getting used to. You need to understand that the Left Trigger (L2 for you PS3 people out there) is not a defensive "face up" button like it has been for so many years in basketball games. The button is used for what is called "'defensive assist," which is the equivalent of the computer making sure you find the player you're defending, and also square him up. Once you square your man up however, the game takes over playing defense for you and will subtly move your player. On paper this sounds a lot like "lock on defense" from the 2K series, but on the court it is very different. Instead of locking onto an offensive player like in NBA 2K9, defense assist simply gravitates your player to the general direction of his defender. It is more a feature for casual players who have a hard time figuring out who they should be defending. If you are one of these players, and you get lost on the defensive side of the ball, simply pull the L Trigger, and voila you will gravitate toward your mark.
This feature can cause a lot of problems for people (myself included) who think it functions as a 2K-like face up button. The problem is that if you hold the defense assist button down and try to play D like in a 2K game, you completely lose control of your player. You will be trying to strafe with the offensive player, and the game will be trying to pull you in a different direction attempting to simply gravitate toward your man. It is difficult to explain in writing, but those of you who have played the game know what I am talking about. It almost feels like you are trying to fight the computer's magnetic controls in order to play defense and the game gets frustrating. I was so discouraged when I first played the game (before I figured out not to hold the button down the entire time on D), that I thought the game was brokenon defense. Once I figured out the actual use of the button I found myself in complete control of my defender, instead of feeling like the computer was controlling me.
Defense assist is useful, however. I use it in spurts, whenever I need to quickly face up to a defender during half-court sets, and even use it if I lose my man on a fast break to try to recover. The key to using the feature is to pull it in quick spurts, not hold it down for an entire possession. If you want to face up to an opponent, make sure you hold down on the right stick, and shuffle with your man using the left stick. Also know that you can use the defensive assist along with flicking the right stick up or down, to set your man to guard tight or loose respectively. I haven't found the system as useful as playing man D without the assist, but the option is there for you to play with.
Knowing when to lock down is probably a good thing to figure out to keep easy buckets out of the equation.
5. Know When To Use "Lock on D"
One of Live 09's cooler features is “lock on defense." This is basically a hybrid of the old March Madness series' lock on control, and 2K's lock on control (but hands down better than both in my opinion). With this feature you simply man up the ball handler, and use the left stick to body him up. Once you are locked on you must move your left stick in unison with his movements or else you will get burned (resulting in a made shot 90 percent of the time). The feature is all about risk/reward, and is very fun to use. For those who do not know how to use the feature though, I can see it becoming a very frustrating situation, even leading some to stop playing the game.
The key to being successful with this feature is to know that it is a HUGE gamble to use. Unlike 2K's lock on defense, you DO NOT need to use the feature in Live to be successful. Before you even attempt to lock on to a player you need to answer two questions: How good is my controlled player at playing defense; and how good of a dribble penetrator is the guy I am about to lock onto? These two questions are critical to being successful while using the lock on feature. You really have to use strategy and know the NBA to make good use of the feature. I think it's great to finally have this type of risk/reward defensive feature in a hoops game. 2K's lock on defense allows anyone to lock on to any other player. Sure, the lock can be broken on offense, but it doesn't seem as player dependent or as risky to lock on like it does in Live. You are not going to lock down Chris Paul with Chris Quinn in Live 09, so why even try. Now if you have Ron Artest locking down Wally Szczerbiak, you may be onto something. During an average game I probably find myself completely locking down a player three or four times. Like I said, this feature is not necessary to be successful on D.
It is also important to understand how to utilize the lock on D. You need to understand that you can disengage at any time once you have engaged -- simply pull away from your mark. I have found a ton of success in quickly locking onto my man to pester him, and then disengaging before he makes a move. It seems that this causes the opponent to pass the ball a good percentage of the time, and forces the other team into setting up another play. If you do find yourself being beat off the dribble by a better offensive player, disengage immediately and try to front your defender using the other techniques mentioned in this article. You can also call for a quick double team by holding down the B or circle button.
So there you have it, my five keys to playing successful defense in NBA Live 09. I know the game feels completely different on defense, and takes some time to learn, but once you do, Live 09 is one of the most rewarding hoops games I have played in my 20-plus year gaming career. Feel free to add your own tips to the comments section of this article, and hopefully we can pull together an all-inclusive defensive guide for Live 09.