After finishing in the bottom-three in defensive rating in three of the last five seasons, the Los Angeles Lakers currently hold the best defensive rating in the NBA, allowing just 96.3 points per 100 possessions. Arguably their most-impressive defensive performance came on Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs.
Going into Sunday night’s game, the Spurs ranked No. 3 in the league in offensive rating and field goal percentage. Against the Lakers, they scored just 96 points on 39.8% shooting from the field.
So the Lakers weren’t just good — they were good against one of the best offensive teams in the league so far. For the Lakers, that’s the type of tone they want to set for the season.
After the team’s statement win on the road, Anthony Davis — who led both teams with four blocks — said that the Lakers have a shared goal of being the best defensive team in the NBA (via Spectrum Sportsnet):
“We understand that if we play defense we’re very hard to beat. Obviously we still have a lot to work on offensively, but we try to make sure that we strive on defense every game, and if we’re able to do that then we’re a tough team to beat... We try to lay our hats down on defense... We want to be the best defensive team in the league.”
LeBron James shared a similar sentiment after the game with Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:
“We don’t really want to talk about it too much, we want to be about it,” James said of the effort on defense. “And that’s what we’ve been doing. We want to be one of the best defensive teams, if not the best defensive team, in the league. … It’s up to us to take the challenge. I think from 1 [through] 15, we’ve all done that, whoever’s in the game.”
Davis has been the anchor for the Lakers defensively, leading both the team and the league in total blocks (18) through six games. Dwight Howard has also been tremendous on that end, with the team allowing just 90.4 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor, while he’s blocked 14 shots on the season, which is ranked No. 5 in the league. Even James has been a legitimately good defender this season, posting a career-high 96.2 defensive rating so far.
But Lakers head coach Frank Vogel also deserves some credit for leading the league’s best defensive team. From the moment he arrived in Los Angeles, Vogel has preached defensive effort and unlike his predecessors, he’s practiced it, too.
As long as Vogel is at the helm, the emphasis on defense isn’t going to go anywhere. After the game, Vogel said he was pleased with the way the Lakers looked on defense and wants to continue building that defensive identity (via Spectrum Sportsnet):
“That’s where it starts, yeah. There’s an importance placed on it with everything we do. We work on it, we prepare and we try to have a smart scheme in place… We keep our length at the basket and our speed on the perimeter, and for the most part we’re doing a good job with it… I was proud of our defensive performance.”
It’s early in the season, but the Lakers are saying and — most importantly — doing the right things when it comes to defense. If they continue to perform at the level they currently are, they won’t have much trouble snapping their six-season playoff drought by the time the postseason rolls around.