Despite the four-month break from competitive basketball, the Los Angeles Lakers showed their defense remains elite in the 103-101 victory over the L.A. Clippers on Thursday.
Head coach Frank Vogel did have to tinker with the rotation as his team struggled offensively in the second half, squandering a 14-point lead. He eventually switched to a small-ball lineup by moving Anthony Davis to the center position.
The adjustment prompted the Lakers to bounce back from the skid. And while Davis ended up with a game-high 34 points, the comeback would have not been possible without a tremendous effort on the defensive end led by Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, and LeBron James.
While Kuzma and Caruso helped shift momentum, it was James’ defense down the stretch that sealed the win. After making a go-ahead basket, James defended both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard on the final possession.
It was more of what James demonstrated throughout the game, as he looked to make an impact despite not being in rhythm offensively.
“His defense on the last possession obviously helped secure the game, but all throughout he was terrific on the ball,” Vogel said. “And as always, just the quarterback of our defense with his voice, calling out coverages.”
James was not surprised the Lakers couldn’t find their offensive rhythm in the first game following the four-month hiatus. But he said doubling down on defense is exactly what the team needs to — and can do — regardless of how matters are going offensively.
“The one thing you can do is defend,” James said. “You can always communicate, you can communicate through a mistake that may happen, you have teammates that back you up if you do make a mistake or whatever the case may be. That communication on the defensive side should always be on point.”
LeBron a quarterback and defensive captain?
When asked for a single argument for James to win MVP this season, Vogel looked to the gridiron. “I just think he impacts winning more than anybody in the league. His IQ, he’s the quarterback of both the offense and defense for us,” he began.
“When you have Tom Brady running the show offensively and Mike Singletary barking out calls on the defensive end, you’re a dominant team.”
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