The Lakers’ final road trip of the season is off to an impressive start as they took care of business in Chicago and Minnesota. The purple and gold are above .500 for the first time since January 2022 and have leapfrogged the Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans in the wild Western Conference standings to move up to the seventh seed.
With the way this rejuvenated group is playing, they’re showing signs that when healthy and focused, they’re capable of challenging any team that comes their way. The Lakers have approached this past stretch one game at a time and are gradually building an identity while they’re at it. They’ve had the league’s best defense since the trade deadline and that was on full display in the second half against the Timberwolves last Friday.
After giving up 65 points to the Timberwolves in the first half — who led by 10 points entering the third quarter — Los Angeles punched back by allowing just 46 points in the entire second half. As my colleague Darius Soriano noted in his post-game recap for NBA.com, the Lakers recorded a defensive rating of 37.9 in the second half, which is their best of the season.
The Lakers’ swarming defense, ball pressure, rim protection and intensity (in spurts, for the most part) on the defensive end are a huge reason why they’re now just a game behind the sixth seed. The best part is that they’re getting it done on the offensive end as well, led by Anthony Davis and the power of their depth — which has arguably been their strongest weapon since the trade deadline.
Aside from Davis, five other Lakers (including Lebron James) scored in double figures yesterday. Shoutout to Rui Hachimura for his defense on Karl Anthony Towns and Dennis Schroder’s two-way production (particularly in the second half) for coming up huge. Shoutout to Malik Beasley for keeping the team afloat in the first half. Shoutout to Jared Vanderbilt for holding Anthony Edwards to just 11 points. And a big round of applause to D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves for playing a significant part in the Lakers’ 24-2 run in the third quarter.
So far, this current Lakers road trip has been what AD envisioned it to be — a “get back” trip against teams who had their way against them in their last face-offs. The next one in line is the Houston Rockets, the same team who also defeated the Lakers three weeks ago.
This is the perfect opportunity for the Lakers to nab another win against a team that has lost seven out of its last 10 games, while they continue to get much-needed reps and build on the identity they’re gradually forming as a unit. Although the Rockets may be more of an inferior opponent, this is a game the Lakers need to approach similarly to how they did in their last two victories.
The Lakers have exactly five games left on their schedule. Their starting unit has literally only played four games (with an undefeated record) together. They’re a game behind the 6th seed (who knows what can happen?) but time was never on their side to turn their season around. The least they can do though is keep building and figuring things out on the fly and see where that takes them. The process continues against the Rockets on Sunday.
Notes and updates
- The Lakers are facing a Rockets team (19-59) that’s coming off a feel-good win against the Detroit Pistons. They’ll have to watch out for Alpren Sengun, Kevin Porter Jr., and. Jalen Green who all can just explode on a random Sunday game. Given that their past few games have been must-win ones, It’ll be ideal for the purple and gold to put this game to bed early instead of battling until the last minute.
- Both Lakers’ stars are on the status report. Anthony Davis is “probable” with a right foot stress injury, and LeBron is “questionable” with right foot soreness.
- Mo Bamba is still out with a left ankle sprain.
- Scotty Pippen Jr. is with the South Bay Lakers on G League assignment.
- For the Rockets, Ja’Sean Tate is out with left knee soreness. Darius Days, TyTy Washington, and Trevor Hudgins are all with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on G League assignment.
- In case you missed it, the NBA and Players Association have reportedly reached an agreement on a new CBA that will take effect by next season. You can read more about that here.
The Lakers and Rockets will tip off early at 4 p.m. PT. on Sunday. The game will only be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.
You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.