LOS ANGELES - After a successful preseason where the Lakers shot 36.3% from three and had three games converting at least 15 or more shots from downtown, there was optimism that Los Angeles shooting woes from beyond the arch were a thing of the past.
Then, the games started to count.
Quickly, the Lakers were near the bottom of the league with a 29.6% shooting percentage after eight regular season games and, with key additions like Gabe Vincent being out, it didn’t look like anything would change.
Head Coach Darvin Ham continued reiterating not being concerned and focusing on defense, certain that shots would eventually start falling.
The day finally came on Tuesday versus the Memphis Grizzlies when the Lakers tied a franchise high in threes made with 22.
The Lakers shot 62.9% from three, the highest 3-PT FG% in a game with at least 35 attempts in NBA history pic.twitter.com/Ddx0uHGuzj— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 15, 2023
The Lakers cruised to victory, dominating the Memphis Grizzlies 134-107, winning their first home game of the In-Season Tournament and, by doing so in blowout fashion, allowed LeBron James to rest the entire fourth and only play a season-low 23 minutes in a win.
Postgame, Ham discussed the importance of stellar shooting while still focusing on the defensive aspects of the game.
“The energy that started on the defensive end,” Ham said. “The energy on the defensive glass. Getting out, getting early opportunities, guys attacking the rim…whether it was a hard roll, early penetration, just everything. Ball movement from side to side is going to open it up. It’s not as forced.
“If they try to crowd you, crowd LeBron, crowd AD, they’re savvy playmakers. They’re smart, smart guys with the ball in their hands, forcing the defense to be off-balance. Guys were open, guys didn’t hesitate. They just shot the ball. I think our defense dictated a lot of our pace tonight and it was beautiful to watch.”
Defense is something all coaches, but particularly Ham, love to discuss, but there’s no doubt the three-point shooting was the focal point tonight. The Lakers didn’t just chuck a lot of threes. They shot 22-35, good for 62.9% from deep, which was even better than their overall shooting from the field at 58% on the night.
Winning can solve a lot of problems. With shots going in and the victory in hand, you saw Lakers players responding with even more enthusiasm than usual.
After a Jaxson Hayes dunk forced another Memphis timeout, you saw him celebrate with his teammates on the floor. And following a Rui Hachimura slam, James and Anthony Davis got together and celebrated on the sidelines.
LeBron was amped for this Rui slam pic.twitter.com/n3hKUy4HnJ— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) November 15, 2023
“I think we just played with a sense of urgency tonight,” Davis said after the game. “Guys played with a lot of confidence, playing in rhythm. Our passes were on target tonight, making the right reads, passes weren’t late. I think this is probably the first game where you could see we kind of just were having fun, getting back to Lakers basketball.
“When you’re having fun and the next guy trusts you, you turn a good play into a great play or a good shot into a great shot, it just shows that player your teammate has confidence in you and you’re able to line them up and knock them down. I think that was the biggest difference. Guys are playing for each other on both ends of the floor, talking, communicating and kind of just led to guys knocking down shots.”
Setting franchise records for made threes is not replicable every night, but getting these kinds of looks from this offense and shooting at a league-average clip from downtown is.
If the Lakers can accomplish that, it will open up driving lanes and with players like James and Davis who apply so much pressure on the rim, it makes their lives easier and will continue to create open looks for guards on the three-point line.
It all creates momentum and allows the offense to run like a well-oiled machine, allowing the Lakers to set up their half-court defense on the other side of the floor.
“Anytime the ball goes in, we get a chance to set our defense,” Davis said. “The way we’ve been shooting this season, I think, has kind of been hurting us in transition. Bad misses or any type of misses, teams are ready to get out and run. But when the ball’s going in, then we’re able to set our defense. I think that’s the biggest difference. If we continue to shoot the ball like we did tonight, we’ll be pretty good and we can take care of that transition defense problem.”
Hopefully, with players like Rui Hachimura catching rhythm, the Lakers implementing a new starting five and other reinforcements like Jarred Vanderbilt on the way, the Lakers can continue to improve their percentages from three and start to look more like the title favorites they were at the start of the year.
And have some fun while doing it.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.