The Los Angeles Lakers won their fourth game in a row by beating the Portland Trail Blazers, 126-117, on Wednesday night. After the win, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Josh Hart spoke at length about what they feel has led to the team’s recent success.
“Stops. We’re getting it on the defensive end,” Caldwell-Pope put simply. “That’s what we talk about a lot in practice and film sessions. Defense has been the key for us.”
Caldwell-Pope is right about the team’s defense. The Lakers were 2-5 in their first seven games, and they were giving up 113.2 points per 100 possessions over that timeframe, the eighth-worst defensive efficiency in the league, according to NBA.com.
The Lakers have went 6-1 since then, and they’ve largely made that climb on the back of an improved defense that has been the sixth-best in the league (allowing 104 points per 100 possessions) over their last seven games.
Some of that improvement is likely due to a schedule that decreased in difficulty, but the Lakers also deserve credit for starting to figure things out.
“We’ve gotten better in the sense of we have better chemistry. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Our attention to detail is better. Our defense and our rebounding. A lot of little things, and when you put all of those things together it adds up to wins,” Hart said.
The Lakers’ growth defensively has come as Caldwell-Pope starts to play better individually (shooting 38.5 percent from behind the arc over the last seven games after shooting just 23.5 percent from distance in his first seven), and as Hart sacrifices his body to often play backup power forward despite standing just 6’5. Those are other examples of the little things that have fixed the Lakers on the margins, and the team’s improved defense has also fueled something else.
“We really turned it up in our transition. We feel like no one can stop us and when we’re in transition. We’re a problem for the other team,” Caldwell-Pope added.
The Lakers’ overall pace has actually slightly decreased (from 106.42 possessions per game to 104.57) over their last seven games from their first seven, but the team letting stops fuel those breaks has made it so they aren’t having to run to outscore teams every time or always take the ball out of their own net.
Essentially, the Lakers are getting better quality fast breaks, something their improved defense and chemistry allows. The team’s schedule will eventually get tougher again, but for now, it appears the team believes they have figured some things out, and the numbers seem to back them up.
All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.