On Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers had their four-game winning streak broken when they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in a game that left the team, and most notably Anthony Davis, frustrated with their defense.
Two games later, the Lakers defeated the Houston Rockets on the road in their best defensive performance of the young season. Davis’ comments seemed to have sparked a fire under the team as they held the Rockets to just 41% shooting from the field, including just 34% shooting in the first half.
After the game, LeBron James spoke to the media about the challenges of building that defensive culture from last season all over again particularly with five new faces in the rotation if you include sophomore phenom Talen Horton-Tucker. Still, James didn’t use that as an excuse and reiterated that the Lakers’ goal is to be the “number one defensive team in the league.”
"We want to be the best defensive team in the league." @KingJames on the #Lakers defensive identity and the impact of THT & KCP. pic.twitter.com/iKU019bsaz
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) January 11, 2021
Despite their inconsistency on that end of the floor, the Lakers are sitting at third in the NBA in defensive rating, allowing just 105.5 points per possession to opponents, a rating just below the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers. They’re also trending upward, coming off a game in which they blocked eight shots and forced 21 turnovers (which led to 30 Lakers points). Davis and James led the way with better engagement and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope re-entered the rotation after an ankle injury to continue to be a pest in passing lanes.
The Lakers have a much more potentially explosive offense than last season so it’s natural for them to take some shortcuts defensively and allow their scoring to make up for it. But when you have a defensive juggernaut like Davis as well as the other parts on this roster, it’s still clear that what would ultimately lead the Lakers to repeating as NBA champions would be to take their mantle as one of, if not the best defensive team in the league.
That of course starts with the team’s captains in James and Davis holding themselves and their teammates accountable.
I was not a fan of KCP until his heroic performance in the playoffs last summer. The man is tall, fast, smart, and scrappy beyond belief. Like the Bald Eagle, the game changes when he is on the floor. He is a good free throw shooter. But most of all, when KCP is playing, we get turnovers and get out and run. A successful fast break leads to renewed commitment at the other end. With the exception of Marc, we have one of the fastest teams in the NBA. And, of course, they are integrating five new teammates into the team. Defense takes longer to come together than offense. IF, and I mean IF, they are healthy at playoff time, there won’t be many teqms scoring 100 against them on their home court.