The Los Angeles Lakers have been out of action since Wednesday, where they wrapped up a back-to-back set in Sacramento. Losing to De’Aaron Fox and the Kings wasn’t an ideal stopping point for the Lakers, but head coach Luke Walton is happy with the time off the team had since then.
“It was nice to be able to have a little break in the middle of the season, and hopefully we'll get back to doing what we were doing well before,” Walton said during media availability after practice Sunday.
“I wanted to use this break, the two days off, to mentally get away and get back to doing what we were doing well to have success with. For us that's our defensive intensity. That's how we compete on that end, it's our transition defense, our individual defense, and getting out and running.”
The Lakers have been going hard in El Segundo now that class is back in session, and Walton is hopeful it’s allowed everyone to recharge their batteries with a tough December schedule ahead.
They’ve been competing so hard since being gifted two days off, in fact, that the recently-returned Larry Nance Jr. found himself back in the hands of the training staff during practice on Sunday. He caught an elbow from Andrew Bogut that left him needing stitches, though it’s not a wound that will push back his expected return on Monday.
Coach Luke sounded optimistic about the opportunity the schedule created to push his team once they got back to the grind. One of the key areas Walton drilled the Lakers was their transition offense, where he feels the turnovers being committed on the break are severely hampering their efforts. Considering the Lakers have the third-worst offensive rating in the NBA (99.2 points per 100 possessions), there’s plenty of room to grow.
“We keep pointing [transition turnovers] out. We're aware of it. We show it in video so the guys can see the points that we're leaving out here, then we come out here and we drill,” Walton said. “We do fast break drills, which is a lot easier when you got four days without a game. When you play every other night it's tough to justify doing that.”
While the turnovers hurt the Lakers’ offense, it’s also not doing their defense any favors. The Lakers give up the third-most points off of turnovers (19.3 per game), coughing up the ball 17.3 times per game (second only to Philadelphia). They’ve also been busy shooting themselves at the free-throw line, where they’re shooting an NBA-worst 70.5 percent.
That’s another area Coach Luke hopes they’ve made progress in during the break.
“We've been doing a ton of free-throw shooting in practice the last couple days because I think we're just killing our chances of winning with the percentage we're shooting from the free-throw line, and guys are hitting them,” Walton said.
The Lakers have survived the first 19 games of their season, even if the results and play on the court haven’t been quite up to where the franchise had hoped. They’re still very-much in playoff position — most teams are this early in the season — and should be happy with staying in striking position of the postseason. LA is currently ninth in the Western Conference at 8-11, tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The gifted pseudo-break should amount to a focused effort, which the Lakers will need with a tough December ahead of them.
“Obviously it's not going to be perfect coming back out, but I think we accomplished what we want with this break, which was physically and mentally giving these guys time off.
“A lot of them are young and are not used to the grind of what this is, and even some guys that have been here, they're playing big-time minutes right now. We did that, and then we were able to come in and really get after it for two straight days, which I think is how you stay sharp,” Walton said.
The Lakers are back at it Monday when they face the LA Clippers, and hopefully they get to show the kind of improvement this unique time-off opportunity created.
*All quotes transcribed via Lakers.com