LOS ANGELES — With 52 games played, the Los Angeles Lakers are technically past the halfway point of the regular season, but for the NBA, the All-Star break typically signifies the end to the first half of the season, and that break is just days away.
Even if the Lakers lose their last game before the All-Star break against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, they’ll still hold the best record in the Western Conference with at least a two game cushion over the two teams that trail them in the standings, the Nuggets and Clippers. Despite this, there are still concerns as to whether the Lakers have enough talent on their roster to be the last team standing in June, and those concerns only grew after they crossed the trade deadline without making a move.
For Anthony Davis, though, there’s no question that the Lakers are a team capable of winning a championship.
“We knew that when we put this team together,” Davis said. “We felt like we were a championship contender as soon as we put the team together. We still have that confidence in our players. We just have to get back to doing the things we do.”
However, in order for them to do that, Davis thinks they need to re-focus on what they do best, which, according to him, is playing suffocating defense.
“Most of the games that we’ve lost or had a hard time winning is because we haven’t played defense, and we’re more than capable of being better defensively. We showed that the first half of the year, so we have to get back to doing that,” Davis said.
The Lakers showed how dominant they can be on the defensive end in their win over the Phoenix Suns on Monday. Not only did they hold the Suns to 100 points — 10 points below their season average — but they also held Devin Booker to a season-low 10 points on 18.2% shooting in just over 31 minutes. In fairness to the Suns, they were a little shorthanded, but when the Lakers are locked in defensively like they were on Monday, it almost doesn’t matter who’s on the other end of the floor.
The Lakers also had it going on offense, shooting 51.6% from the field, including 37.8% from 3-point range. Three players — LeBron James, Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo — had at least three 3-pointers and made more than 50% of them. It was one of the rare games where one person wasn’t carrying the burden of 3-point shooting — a burden that’s usually carried by Green.
While Green is shooting the lowest percentage (37.7%) he’s shot from behind the arc since the 2010-11 season, he’s still making almost two 3-pointers per game, which is second on the team to James, who’s averaging a career-high 2.2 3-point makes per game this season.
But Green also has the responsibility of defending the other team’s best guard on most nights, which can sometimes affect his ability to make an impact on the other end. That was the case on Monday, as he shot 1-6 from 3 but played a big role in keeping Booker quiet.
As a shooter, Green understands that there will be some nights where he just doesn’t have it, which is why he thinks it’s important for him and the Lakers to focus on things they can control, like their effort on the defensive end.
“I think it’s more important that we’re defensively clicking more than anything,” Green said. “Offensively is great, to be hitting shots. But we’ve had very few games where everybody’s clicking, shooting-wise. (Avery Bradley has) been hot lately. He’s been shooting very well. ‘Bron has, too. Kenny’s (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) been shooting well all season.”
“We have nights where other guys shoot well, some guys don’t. It would be nice to see, going into the break, if we got a good last one where everybody’s clicking, but it’s more important that everyone’s clicking after the All-Star break — in the playoffs.”
And playoffs seem to be where everyone’s head is at going into the All-Star break.
Yes, the Lakers have 30 more regular season games on the schedule, but players like Dwight Howard are already pumping themselves up for the postseason, which starts on April 18.
“It’s really time to turn up,” Howard said. “Second half of the season the season we’ve got to come out and destroy. Destroy has to be our mindset each and every single game, every single practice, shootaround, whatever it may be, we’ve got to be ready to destroy.
“If we have that mindset coming in after All-Star break and we got into the playoffs with that mindset, I don’t see anybody beating us in a seven-game series.”
James is equally anxious to make his return to the postseason after missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 years last year, but he understands that the season is a marathon, not a sprint, and he’s going to enjoy the process of getting back over the next two months.
“We’re in the business of winning, and we’re winning more than we’re losing, so I love where we are right now,” James said. “We want to continue to get better, we have an opportunity to get better on Wednesday and take every moment like it’s its own challenge. But to see where we are right now, we’re in a really good position.”
All quotes obtained firsthand. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.