Since the Los Angeles Lakers signed Tyson Chandler, their defensive rating has dramatically improved from bottom-five to top-10. While the Lakers have won seven out of their last nine games, their two losses have come against the Orlando Magic.
As Nikola Vucevic averaged 33.5 points and 14.0 rebounds against them, the Lakers have struggled against centers who can stretch the floor. Their next test comes in the form of Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic.
“He’s tough because he’s able to sit out there and spread the court, shoot threes, and he’s such a brilliant playmaker that if he does get in the paint, he’s a threat at all levels,” Walton said after practice.
“We’ve got to keep him in front of us, we’ve got to keep fresh bodies on him, and we have to have ball pressure on him. If you sit there and let him quarterback an offense where he can see passing lanes and everything, he’s going to pick you apart.”
In the first matchup against the Lakers, Jokic finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds. However, JaVale McGee had to play extended minutes without a true backup at the time. Walton also relied on a small-ball lineup that saw LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma defend the versatile center.
Brandon Ingram, who may find himself in help situations on Jokic, is also keenly aware of the threat he poses. “He’s a really, really good player so we just try to make it tough on him,” Ingram said.
“Make him take tough shots. We know he’s a really good facilitator so just try to put pressure on the ball and try to make him turn it over a little bit more.”