Believe it or not, the Los Angeles Lakers have looked like a much better team in recent weeks. It might be hard to notice amid losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings, but L.A. is 7-4 in their last 11. Russell Westbrook, in particular, has started to gel with his new team.
But where the Lakers have really improved is defensively. Through the first 18 games of the season — Oct. 19 to Nov. 20 — the Lakers ranked 20th in the NBA in defensive rating. Since Nov. 21, the Lakers are sixth in the same category, putting them directly in between teams known for their defense, like the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers.
They showed just how much their defense can grow with an elite third quarter performance against the Orlando Magic. In a 36-9 quarter, they stifled every part of the Magic’s offensive attack. Westbrook took note of the defense they played during that run.
“Just forcing our will on the defensive end. When we were able to do that, we were able to get out on the break and score at will, which helped us out.”
Overall, Westbrook praised the Lakers for making wholesale defensive improvements in their recent stretch of games. “We’ve been doing a good job, honestly. The last two weeks or so, 5-10 games we’ve done a better job, our defense has been better. Even in some games we’ve lost, defensively we’ve been better.”
The defensive improvements — in some way — correlate with the Lakers finally committing to small-ball, playing just one of DeAndre Jordan or Dwight Howard on any given night rather than both. This has allowed Anthony Davis and even LeBron James more time at the center position, increasing the team’s switch-ability on defense.
It’s possible that the Lakers have finally turned a corner after a dismal start to the 2021-22 season. But now, the question becomes consistency. L.A. has shown what they can do in small spurts — and those spurts have started to get a little longer — but they really have yet to put together a complete 48-minute game.
As their schedule begins to toughen up, they will have some chances to show their improvements on a bigger stage. Crushing the Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder show their ability to take care of business against bad teams, but they now need to do it against playoff-bound opponents.
Westbrook: ‘we’ll hold it down’ until Davis returns
The Lakers’ last two wins came without Davis, who is dealing with a minor knee injury. The big man is considered day-to-day and should be back soon, but Westbrook thinks they can handle things until he is 100%.
“We’ve been good. Obviously we miss AD and miss his presence and want to make sure he’s healthy before he comes back. But until then, we’ll hold it down for him.”
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