The Los Angeles Lakers will head into the All-Star break 2.5 games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference after losing to the 19-38 Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday. It marked their seventh loss in 10 games.
The Lakers scored near their season average in points per game (112.2) against Atlanta, but they allowed the Hawks to score six points above their season average (111), including 100 points through the first three quarters. It wasn’t a game for defensive purists, to say the least.
Following the game, JaVale McGee told Spectrum SportsNet that the Lakers’ struggles on defense can be traced back to the ever-changing lineups, which can be attributed to the new and returning bodies on the roster:
“We just have a lot of different lineups. Just because of trades and injuries and I just feel like our congruence and the way we’re coming together isn’t really working. We just need to refocus, we just really need this break I feel like, mentally and everything. When we refocus, get to our set lineups so we know who has our back, who’s there for the communication and everything we’ll be fine. We just really need this break I feel like.”
However, McGee doesn’t want his teammates to use the break to think about how they can improve on the basketball court, or at least not the entirety of the break:
“I feel like the first few days we don’t even need to focus on basketball. We just need to refocus on ourselves and then just getting right back to it, and knowing what we have to do in this second half to be successful and to get to the playoffs ...”
McGee believes a big part of that playoff push will be getting their starting point guard and defensive anchor Lonzo Ball back.
“Definitely, definitely ... Everybody is nursing an injury. Lonzo will be back, that will be good to have a big guard on defense guarding the point guard position. There’s a lot of positivity on the way back.”
That might sound like McGee being an optimist, but Ball is a big part of everything the Lakers, especially defensively.
Over the last 10 games, the Lakers have posted a defensive rating of 118.1, which is only better than the Phoenix Suns, Washington Wizards, San Antonio Spurs and Hawks. In the games before Ball got hurt, they were ranked seventh in defensive rating.
Offensively the numbers are roughly the same, but having a second point guard is a big plus for any team.
A lot needs to change before the Lakers can re-enter the playoff race, but having a healthy roster will give them a nice boost. Hopefully both Ball and Josh Hart will make their returns shortly after the All-Star break.