LOS ANGELES- It’s hardly a secret that the Los Angeles Lakers have been one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA this year. The reason they aren’t THE worst anymore is due to a stellar defensive performance against the Indiana Pacers.
The Lakers held Indiana to just 96 points on an offensive rating of 92.3. To put that rating in context, the Pacers scored at a rate that would be 6.2 points per 100 possessions less than the league-worst Philadelphia 76ers.
According to center Timofey Mozgov, the answer to why the Lakers were able to be so much more effective on that end was simple.
“Just playing defense,” Mozgov told Silver Screen and Roll. “I think we just concentrated for all 48 minutes and concentrated on what we're doing. We helped weak side, and tried to play one-on-one defense, and then if you get beat the weak side was there every time.”
The Lakers’ improved defensive rotations allowed the team to force the Pacers into 41.2 percent shooting at the rim, 15 percent worse than league average in that area. Point guard Jeff Teague went just 2-6 around the bucket as the Lakers quickly rotated to wall off the paint:
Mozgov and Randle built a wall at the rim on that possession, and Teague wasn’t the only Pacer who paid for it. Thaddeus Young was forced into a similarly inneficient 3-9 shooting night of his own in part due to the Lakers rim protection:
“They only scored eight points in our paint in the second half, which for us is a near miracle,” said Lakers head coach Luke Walton. “Guys were in tagging, guys were up talking on screen-and-rolls, they weren't getting behind us on screen-and-rolls, and honestly that's what I was hoping to see tonight after the way they were getting after it the past two days [in practice].”
Walton could have reasonably hoped for improvement after a few days of extra practice, but he’s also right that the Lakers (who have been the worst team in the league at defending the rim this season) forcing Indiana into so many point-blank misses could easily be seen as evidence of divine intervention.
Or at the very least, evidence of a more focused team.
“We just stayed locked in all game,” Mozgov said. “I think everybody had a little bit more effort tonight.”
For one night at least, the Lakers’ effort translated into effectiveness. One game does not a trend make, and the Pacers are only the 17th most efficient offense in the league. Still, a trend can’t start until the results begin to flip, so while the Lakers probably won’t become some type of defensive juggernaut the rest of the season, they could be starting to find ways to at least not be the worst defense in the league.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats per NBA.com. and Basketball-Reference.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.