After their loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Lakers are now a quarter of the way through the NBA regular season. Their record (11-9) might not be where they wanted it to be — or maybe it is — but regardless, head coach Luke Walton is encouraged by the growth his team has made over the past month.
After practice on Wednesday, Walton told reporters that he and his team sat down to go over the last 10-game stretch, and he was pleased with how much the Lakers have improved defensively.
“We break down the season into ten-game segments,” Walton said. “We did our ten-game breakdown today, defensively mainly, for the first ten vs. where we are now. And it’s gotten a lot better.”
Walton was also pleased with how the team had improved from their first ten game (in which they had a 4-6 record) to their last ten (in with they’re 7-3). That said, he noted that not all of the Lakers’ metrics had swung in a positive direction.
“Our offensive numbers have dropped. We were a top-five offense in the first half, and now we’ve gone to a top-five defense,” Walton said. “We’ve kind of got to level that out a little bit in these next ten.”
Part of the reason the Lakers might not be as productive as they once were offensively could be because they have slowed things down just a smidge. Once a top-three team in pace, the Lakers are ranked No. 10 in pace over their last 10 games and No. 20 in their last five.
Walton said their change of pace was somewhat planned, but it also had to do with the fact that the Lakers lost on their best players in transition, Rajon Rondo.
“We don’t want to slow things down, but we haven’t been emphasizing as much as far as ‘push every chance we get,’” Walton said. “One, because we’re more focused on our defense right now, and two, we know that Rondo is a big part of leading those breaks.
“(He was) playmaking, making sure that guys get in the right spots and making sure that we’re taking care of the ball. So not having him out there, we’re just trying to play solid basketball right now.”
The Lakers’ emphasis on defense has paid off, as they’re a top-five defensive team throughout the last 10 games. On the season, they’re ranked No. 12 overall, which didn’t seem realistic at the start of the year, when they were ranked as low as No. 28.
But the team’s offensive struggles are real, especially when it comes to taking care of the ball. The Lakers have the fourth-worst turnover percentage (15.9 percent) in the league over the last 10 games, only better than the Dallas Mavericks, the Utah Jazz and the Atlanta Hawks.
But despite the few wrinkles they’ve had to iron out — some of which look more like mountains — Walton is happy with where the Lakers are headed.
”Some of the slower pace of late I would not have anticipated. I thought we were going to play pretty fast all season, but through injuries and other circumstances, we’ve started to slow down a little bit. Our offense, our turnovers, but nothing has really surprised me as far as what’s going on,” Walton said.
“We got a new group of guys learning to play together, and you’re going to run into different little bumps in the road all season long,” Walton continued. “It’s about getting over those together and continuing to become a better team, and I feel like we’re doing a really good job of that.”
Over their next 10 games, the Lakers will see three playoff teams, including the Charlotte Hornets Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers. They’ll also see a number of playoff bubble teams like the Washington Wizards Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs.
Barring more unfortunate injury news for the purple and gold, the Lakers have a real chance to prove they’re serious contenders in the Western Conference over these next 10 games. If they can’t rise to the challenge, their roster could look very different in the 10 games that follow.
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