It was the type of game in which the Lakers had to do all kinds of other little things in order to escape Staples Center with a home victory, and according to head coach Luke Walton as he began his postgame remarks to reporters, a game his team couldn’t have won at the beginning of the year.
“That’s another win tonight that we wouldn’t have had earlier in the season,” Walton said. “It’s definitely one we scrapped out and found a way to win. To me, that continues to show growth from our guys, confidence that we can find a way no matter what kind of game it is.”
The Lakers have mainly been accumulating such victories with grungy defensive effort, which is why they have climbed to become the ninth-ranked defense in the league — allowing 109.6 points per 100 possessions — after starting the season as the 8th-worst defense in the NBA in October.
Since Nov. 1, though, the Lakers are the third-best defense in the league, allowing 103.6 points per 100 possessions, and their 14-5 record is the third-best in the NBA over that time frame.
”I think at the beginning of the year we didn’t necessarily know how to win as a team. We’re a young team, and especially during the earlier parts of the year we would make key mistakes down the stretches of a lot of games,” said Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma. “We’ve done a great job of learning from those things and growing as the season’s progressed.”
And “those things” Kuzma mentions haven’t just been defense. Walton saw quite a few other areas that the team showed improvement specifically in their game against Miami.
“I thought that we did a nice job on some of the themes we talk about a lot. [Committing] 12 turnovers is a big improvement for us. We only sent them to the foul line 13 times, another big thing for our defense,” Walton said.
The Lakers are the 10th-worst team in the NBA in turnover percentage, coughing up the ball on 15 percent of their possessions. The Lakers have actually been sixth-best in the league in opposing free-throw attempts (21.1 per game), which — as Walton notes — has been a big part of their defensive success.
But both Walton and Kuzma are correct that the Lakers can win games now they wouldn’t have earlier, as evidenced by them pulling out a win in their fifth-lowest paced game of the year against Miami on Monday. For a team that relies on pace to fuel a ton of its offense, that’s evidence that the Lakers finding other ways to get victories, an adaptability that will only continue to improve as the team gets more time together to build chemistry and cohesion.