Since Magic Johnson reprimanded Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton for the team’s sluggish start, the Lakers have won four of their last five games. Coincidence? Maybe not.
In an interview with Allen Sliwa, host of “Lakers Talk” on ESPN LA, second-year forward Kyle Kuzma admitted that there is an increased sense of urgency for the coaching staff to win this season, and he has been impressed with the way the coaches responded to the team’s early struggles and drama:
“I don’t think much has changed. Luke and his staff are the same. I think the biggest thing that’s changed is the urgency that they coach with and how we play. Going from a development stage from last year when we’re all rookies and second year players like B.I. to now.
“With the expectation to win, it’s definitely going to put more edge on the organization as whole. They have done a great job this season with all the parts that have changed, having guys out from suspension, having different rotations, different closing lineups, different starting lineups. I think they have done a great job so far managing they’ve dealt with.”
Just how well have they managed?
In their first seven games, the Lakers were ranked No. 23 in the league in defensive rating, something Johnson reportedly took issue with. Through their last six games, the Lakers are ranked No. 7 in the league in defensive rating. Since adding Tyson Chandler, they have second-best defensive rating in the NBA.
Some of that has to do with players returning from suspension and the addition of Chandler, but it probably has more to do with the fact that players are starting to get familiar with one another.
The offense still needs some work but Walton said at practice on Tuesday that his priority is getting the Lakers to be locked in defensively.
“We score a lot of points,” Walton said (via Lakers.com). “We get out and we run and we’ve got multiple guys who can go get buckets for us so we’ll continue to clean up execution on that, but we’re going to continue to prioritize defense.”
The Lakers have a stretch of winnable games coming up on the schedule in which Walton and his coaching staff can show they’re the the right group of guys to lead this team. It’s been a gradual climb, but the Lakers are slowly getting to where they need to be.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.