The Los Angeles Lakers have won two consecutive games, looking like a completely rejuvenated team on both ends of the floor. Dennis Schroder’s return provided an instant impact to help LeBron James on offense, but it’s been defense where the Lakers continue to dominate.
After dropping four straight games, their worst stretch this season, the Lakers have overwhelmed the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors — two potential playoff-bound squads — showing how forceful they can be when near full health.
Los Angeles still possesses the league’s best defensive rating, 105.1, but in the last two victories, that number has improved to 91.1, which also leads the league in games during that time span.
James has notably increased his presence on the defensive end. He’s jumping passing lanes, hounding ball handlers and more, leading to a defensive rating of 88.8 over the last two contests. After L.A. lost to the Miami Heat recently, James mentioned how he needed to adjust to the team’s needs, and right now, those adjustments are manifesting defensively.
“It’s my job to figure out on both sides of the floor,” James said. “I think defensively I’ve just been a little more active. Trying to be in the right position where it will benefit our team and myself. I’ve just been flying around, and it’s helped out our team. Everyone has been flying around; they’ve helped me out as well too.
“I’m definitely not OK with losing, so it was my job to figure out what was going to be best for our team. We’ve done a good job of that the last couple games.”
James added that the familiarity of playing Portland in the Orlando bubble and his several battles with Golden State played a factor in reading what those teams would do.
“Our coaching staff has done a great job putting together a gameplan and we’ve just tried to execute that,” James said. “I’ve definitely got a lot of familiarity with G.S. and some of the players they have on the floor because of the last 10 years obviously, but also with Portland and the series we had with them not too long ago.”
But studying the opposition is something James will always do, regardless of the team.
“For me, I always try to keep myself familiar with whoever we’re playing by watching film and diving into things they’re going to do, just to put my team in position to be successful,” James said.
Thanks to Los Angeles’ preparation, the team is generating turnovers and limiting the production of the opposition’s stars. Los Angeles stole the ball 14 times against the Warriors while holding Stephen Curry — who is averaging 29.5 points per game this year — to just 16 points on 5-13 shooting.
James said that watching the tape about their opponents is paying off.
“It gives you an opportunity to be ahead of some plays as well,” the 18-year veteran said. “Some of it is read and react, obviously, but to be able to be in position where you can be there before actual action takes place because you broke down the film and watched it, it helps out a lot.”
Vogel trying to ‘lighten load’ for James
Offensively, James has shouldered a hefty burden to create for his teammates while scoring himself in the absence of Anthony Davis and Schroder. But with Schroder returning, he’s handled the ball on various occasions on pick-and-rolls and other actions while James plays off the ball.
With Schroder back, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel wants another ballhandler alongside James when he’s on the court.
“I think in both of these two games [win over Portland and loss to Washington], that’s something we’re trying to get accomplished where ‘Bron doesn’t have to do as much within his minutes,” Vogel said.
“That he can play off the ball more, we wanted him to play in the post a little bit more tonight, and have either Alex or Dennis — and Talen at times — initiating the offense, just lightening that load a little bit. I thought it paid dividends.”
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