Given the amount of scrutiny Laker head coach Luke Walton has been working under since Magic Johnson admonished Walton in a meeting a few weeks ago, that LeBron James and his teammates credited the coaching staff for coming up with a great strategy defensively would not seem to be insignificant (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“We just keyed in on our principles. We had a hell of a game plan and we executed it. It’s up to us to execute it, and we did that for 48 minutes,” James said.
One thing that the Lakers have handled well are games against teams they should beat. It’s one thing to lose (especially close games) to other good teams. But you have to take care of business against inferior ones. Saturday was the latest example of the Lakers doing so.
Walton said that process started on the defensive end:
“We won the game tonight with our defense. We’ve been seeing the progress, but it was good to see a full game of it.”
The best quote of the night came from JaVale McGee (who should be considered for Defensive Player of the Year but won’t, but that’s none of my business):
“We’re getting better and better if I do say so myself... We’re just playing defense as a team. I feel like we were playing some okay individual defense, but now I feel like we’re all synced in.”
“If I do say so myself” is amazing. People should use that more.
Also, McGee isn’t wrong that the team is starting to come together. Tyson Chandler has helped, but as we pointed out earlier today, the team was starting to improve defensively even before he showed up:
It should be noted that over the two games since Chandler joined the team, the Lakers are giving up 99.1 points per 100 possessions when he sits. So Chandler is making a difference, but the team as a whole is also playing better defense of late (their defensive rating of 96.1 over the last two contests ranks second in the league over that span, and the 103.1 they’ve allowed in their last five games would rank fifth in the league over that sample size).
McGee makes an important, though. The Lakers don’t have very many great one-on-one defenders, so they’ll have to focus on playing defense as a team. So long as they work off each other, they have a chance at success on that end.
Lonzo Ball summed up the team’s approach and the importance of defense for this specific Lakers team about as well as anyone possibly can:
“It’s always going to be defense for us. Offense is not really a problem. We got a lot of talented guys who can put the ball in the hole, so as long as we get stops we’ll be okay.”
Amen, Lonzo. Amen.