The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t really in the “moral victory” business considering they have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, a superstar duo that should rule out any pursuits other than winning every game possible.
But, if we’re going to allow ourselves to be positive about anything after the team’s 0-2 start to the 2022-23 season, they did play much better in their 103-97 loss on Thursday against the Clippers when compared to their performance on opening night against the Warriors.
Most of that improved play came via the defensive end, where the light-in-height Lakers were able to hold the extremely long-and-tall Clippers to 103 points. Even though Kawhi Leonard played sparingly due to load management, Paul George and the rest of the Clippers were in full swing. The defensive performance is at least something for Ham and the team to hang their hats on, as last year’s Lakers often gave up more points than that last season against the Clippers when they were usually without both of their two best players.
Other than the point total that they held the Clippers to, there was another statistic that the Lakers notched for the first time Thursday that further shows the defense they were playing. That stat was a “kill” that the Lakers completed, which represents three stops in a row. Ham indicated before the season that assistant coach Phil Handy would be tracking these this season, giving the Lakers a little extra competitive juice to get after it on the defensive end so that they can get as much of these as they can.
The first “kill” was noted by Spectrum SportsNet’s Allie Clifton, with the three straight stops being seen below.
It’s not shown in the video, but all three of these stops led to Lakers transition baskets that all came at the rim. With the team’s very obvious lack of shooting across its roster, this is the recipe for them being able to score points in bunches all season long as it simply creates much easier, and closer, scoring opportunities.
The second “kill” of the young Lakers’ season came shortly after the above, as a Marcus Morris made jumper following the three plays above was the only made basket that happened before the Lakers forced four straight Clippers possessions with zero points. These four stops led to even more transition opportunities, and ultimately a 54-54 tie that eventually was 56-56 heading into the half.
So there’s some positivity to be had. Dare I say even... a “moral victory.” However, the negative part of this is that the first “kill” didn’t come until the team’s second game of the season. Hopefully, this is a precursor to the defense improving even more moving forward, and not just a future outlier to be seen when looking back on mostly-poor defensive performances across the team’s first few games of the season.