The Los Angeles Lakers were trailing 65-55 at the end of the first half on Friday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. At one point during the third quarter, the Timberwolves’ lead grew to as large as 12. But then suddenly, something clicked for the Lakers.
We would see a 24-2 run at one point during the third quarter with the Lakers showing why they’ve had the best defense since the trade deadline.
Dennis Schroder was a constant pest all game long, especially in the second half, and that’s where we start our first clip. His full-court pressure prevents the Timberwolves from comfortably initiating their half-court offense. The Lakers were aggressive all game long with their ball-screen coverages, especially with Anthony Edwards. The Lakers “blitzing” the screen creates a cross-match, but Schroder holds his own guarding Karl-Anthony Towns at the top of the key. Great job by Jarred Vanderbilt to be ready to help and force the Towns pass, and D’Angelo Russell finishes off the tremendous defensive possession with a good closeout forcing the bad shot.
Once again, Schroder disrupts the Timberwolves’ offense. His full-court pressure eventually leads to a back tap in which Towns is forced to dive for it and go past halfcourt. Impeccable job by the Lakers players rallying to the ball trying to come up with it as the Lakers force a turnover during a critical part of the game.
When Darvin Ham was in Milwaukee under head coach Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks’ defensive scheme was built around two things. Close off paint touches/protect the rim at all costs and give up corner 3-pointers. While that left the Bucks vulnerable in specific playoff series (2022 vs. Boston & 2020 vs. Miami), it can become the best defense in the NBA when it works. We get a glimpse of that here. Anthony Davis does a solid job of running Edwards off the 3-point line. However, what’s arguably even more impressive is how Rui Hachimura, Schroder and LeBron James were ready to help and close off any lane line drives toward the rim. Davis does a solid job closing out on the corner 3, and the Lakers end the possession with a critical defensive stop.
The Lakers do a phenomenal job blitzing the ball screen, frustrating Edwards. When the Timberwolves enter their “Empty” Pick & Roll, Vanderbilt and Davis do a great job being active with their hands and not allowing Edwards to have any space to operate. Russell effectively does a great job tagging on Rudy Gobert and Hachimura comes up with a huge steal.
Lakers Offense Comes Alive!
The Lakers start this possession off Sideline Out Of Bounds (SLOB). They go with their “Zipper Curl Reject” set out of their Zipper series. Davis looks to set the pindown for James, but the Timberwolves overplay it forcing LeBron to reject the screen. This flows into the Lakers’ empty side two-man game between LeBron and Davis. James does a great job selling the jumper, forcing the defense to collapse, and Vanderbilt knocks down the 3.
Absolute props to Chris Jent/Darvin Ham for this halfcourt set because this is amazing. The play starts with a regular spread pick & roll between Davis and Russell. It’s pivotal that Austin Reaves (a 37.9% 3-point shooter) is standing in the ball-side corner here, not allowing much help. But Wenyen Gabriel comes up and sets a flare screen on LeBron’s defender so that James would’ve been open for a 3 or even a potential lob. Instead, Davis knocked down the mid-range jumper as the Lakers looked to kickstart their comeback.
I know I just gave the coaching staff praise for the last play, and rightfully so. However, this set clears that one because this play is filthy!! So many different actions are going on all at once, which forces the defense to pick its poison. So the play starts with the Lakers “Double Drag” ball-screen series. Meanwhile, as this is happening, you have Hachimura and Gabriel “exchange” spots on the weak side. As James rolls toward the rim, you have a “45 cut” by Gabriel to the basket. Hachimura re-fills the vacant spot left by Gabriel and Reaves also triggers the “Shake” action as well here. The Shake action doesn’t allow Reaves’ man to “tag” LeBron on the roll. If he does tag on James, that would leave Reaves wide open for the 3. Great set here by the Lakers with many different actions; a good pass by Schroder, and the Lakers get a wide-open dunk for LeBron.
The Lakers got a massive win on Friday night, and if we can see any level of consistency from them on both ends of the floor, this could be a team to make a special postseason push.