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Josh Hart on Lakers struggles on defense against Magic: ‘They kicked my f**king ass’

Josh Hart wasn’t happy with how he played on defense as the Lakers lost to the Magic.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers were beaten down the Orlando Magic in a 130-117 blowout loss that was less close than the final score appeared. Josh Hart played relatively well offensively, finishing with 13 points and making three of his four 3-point attempts, but like the rest of his teammates, he struggled on the other end of the floor.

While speaking to reporters after the defeat, Hart was candid about his poor play with some NSFW language (via Bill Oram of the Athletic):

“They kicked my fucking ass,” Hart said. “That’s personal.”

Hart is generally regarded as the Lakers’ best perimeter defender — and one of their best on the inside, too. But he was the first to say he didn’t have it against Orlando.

“I’m just frustrated with how I played defensively,” he said. “I let these guys down, and we’ve just got to take this one to the chin and try to finish this road trip with two wins.”

Hart isn’t wrong in his assessment. The Lakers were never worse defensively than when he was on the floor on Saturday night, allowing the Magic to score at a rate (defensive rating) that would equal 139.5 points per 100 possessions during Hart’s minutes. They were also never better than when Hart sat, giving up a defensive rating of 112.9 while he was on the pine.

And while Oram is correct to note that Hart “is generally regarded as the Lakers’ best perimeter defender,” or at least one of their best, this has been a flawed narrative for a while now that isn’t really backed up by stats or the eye test.

Hart is a rugged defender who tries hard, yes, and he does sometimes jump passing lanes for steals, but he also often stands too upright while guarding his man on the perimeter and is prone to back-cuts and blow-bys. Those mistakes were part of what went wrong against the Magic, with Hart coming in at backup two to spell Brandon Ingram so that Ingram could come back earlier and play backup point guard, and Hart having to guard more guards as a result.

What Hart is good at on defense are the big man responsibilities he’s been tasked with at times, both outright and on switches, which is why he’s actually better when guarding larger players despite standing just 6’5. Hart is stout, with a low center of gravity, and has stepped up to the challenge of defending power forwards when Lakers head coach Luke Walton has played him as a small-ball four.

That success against big men is why Hart’s season-long defensive metrics look a lot better than his numbers against the Magic did, as of players to play more than 100 minutes this season, the Lakers have their third-best defensive rating (103.9) with Hart on the floor, and second-worst (110.7) when he sits.

Not an accident is that Hart’s frequent bench brigade partners Tyson Chandler and Rajon Rondo are right near him in those same categories, a testament to how good Walton’s weirdo, four-guard bench unit has worked this year.

It’s good that Hart can recognize when he didn’t play well — like against Orlando — but as long as he keeps contributing to success on average like he had up until Saturday night, the Lakers will have to be happy with most of what he’s giving them defensively, even if he’s far from perfect on that end just yet.

All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.