The first month of the NBA season is nearly coming to an end, and the Los Angeles Lakers still hold the best defensive rating in the league, in large part due to their shot-block big men.Not only do the Lakers have Anthony Davis, who leads the NBA in total blocked shots (38), but they also have Dwight Howard, who is ranked ninth with 21, and JaVale McGee, who is ranked No. 22 with 15.
No other team has three players in the top 25 in blocks.
The Lakers’ shot-blocking prowess was on full display on Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks as they finished the game with 14 blocks, the most shots they’ve rejected in a single game since 2002. In that game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Dec. 3, 2002, Shaquille O’Neal led Los Angeles with seven blocks. Kobe Bryant and Robert Horry added three each.
JaVale McGee, who ended the game with two blocks, was pleasantly surprised to hear how long it’s been since the Lakers have had that many blocks in a game, but he didn’t sound shocked that this team did it.
”That’s amazing,” McGee said. “It seems like we’ve had a lot of mosts this year. It’s pretty dope ... We’re just playing great defense. That’s what we’ve been talking about, the whole team. That’s what coach has been talking about has been harping on defense. Blocking shots is a part of that.”
Davis, who led the Lakers with five blocks, said the team has made a concerted effort to not allow shots at the rim this season.
“We try to make sure that we give up no dunks and layups,” Davis said. “Obviously some things are going to happen throughout the course of the game, but for the most part we want to protect the rim. I think we did a good job of that tonight.”
Between Davis and McGee, the Lakers have plenty of shot-blocking in their starting front court. However, they also have Howard off the bench, and he’s been jus as impressive in that regard. In fact, Howard is second on the team in contested 2-point shots (6.4) behind Davis (8.9).
As a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Howard prides himself in what he brings on defense, and he said that the Lakers do, too, this season.
“Well we know that defense wins championships,” Howard said. “So, for all of us that’s our main goal is it make sure we hold opponents to under 100 points every night. Blocking shots is one of them, but changing shots and making sure our bigs are up on all the pick and rolls making it hard for the guards to score, that’s what we want to do and that’s gonna make us better on the offensive end.”
While the Lakers aren’t an elite offensive team yet, they’re ranked in the top-10 in offensive rating and because they’re so good on the defensive end, they also lead the league in net rating. Considering two of the top-three teams in net rating made the NBA Finals last season, that’s a good sign for the Lakers.
It’s early in the season, but with the best record in the NBA and some of the best defensive talent the league has to offer, the Lakers are in good shape for a deep postseason run, healthy permitting.