Head coach Luke Walton had guided the Los Angeles Lakers to becoming one of the best defensive teams in the league at the start of the season before a month-plus backslide left them rapidly tumbling down the ranks.
Over the course of their three-game winning streak, most notably in their 93-81 upset over the San Antonio Spurs, the team has begun to show life on that end again.
“When five guys are in sync like that, moving defensively, it just seems to happen. We had high hands on the ball, had KCP cutting through passing lanes, we were just making their catches tough,” said Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr.
“When we’re playing defense like that, flying all over and scrambling, we’re really good.”
The Lakers have been really good recently, and while it was easy to credit wins over the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks to the team feasting on bottom-feeders, the Lakers had to start their upward trend somewhere.
The team was able to carry that momentum into a game in which they held the Spurs to 40.8 percent shooting, five percent below their season average.
“We really locked in on the defensive end and took that to how we want to play on the offensive end. We’re getting a lot of fast-break points, pushing it in transition gets us in a better rhythm,” said Brandon Ingram.
The Lakers also managed to swipe a season-high 15 steals against San Antonio, something Lonzo Ball credited to the Lakers playing as one.
“That’s just us playing hard and being in the right spots. We knew we had to attack the rollers, Pau and LaMarcus are great big men, so we had to help on them and get out,” Ball said.
“Looking at the tape during our losing streak, everybody was spread out, and now we’re helping as one.”
That type of communication is one of the factors Walton cited as imperative to the team coming out victorious against the Spurs, talking he said has gotten better as the team learns to switch in unison with increasing frequency, but he also felt like there was a simpler reason for the team’s improved success.
“I thought our players’ effort defensively was huge tonight. Ultimately, why we won the game was the way that we scrapped on the defensive end all night long,” Walton said.
Effort like that is why the Lakers’ defense has climbed back to 11th in the league in defensive efficiency as of Thursday night, allowing just 104.8 points per 100 possessions on the season.
Along with the reasons his teammates and head coach said the Lakers have been able to improve, rookie forward Kyle Kuzma also said watching more film had been a personal key to his own defensive uptick.
Additionally, Kuzma said he’s figured out the easiest strategy to stop opponents.
“Not trying to let people score,” Kuzma said. “I’ve been watching film a lot and it’s really helped me.”