The Los Angeles Lakers played three games this past week and won all of them, although they played poorly in the final contest against the weak Atlantic Hawks.
The Lakers had a disappointing start to the season but have now prevailed in five of their last six games and finished the week at 7-6, their first winning record in two years.
The biggest change during the week was the addition of center Tyson Chandler, who brought exactly what the Lakers were missing: Toughness, rebounding and additional defensive presence in the middle.
LeBron James had another strong week, adeptly balancing when to let the young players assert themselves and when to take over the game himself. The Lakers completed a stretch of tough games against playoff teams to start the season and are now in a period when they have a chance to pad their record against some weaker opponents.
Following is a summary of what went right and what went wrong the past week.
What Went Right
The signing of Chandler paid immediate dividends for the Lakers, as he debuted against the Minnesota Timberwolves and made crucial plays to secure the win. He had 12 rebounds the following game against the Sacramento Kings, and finished the week with a game-winning block against the Atlanta Hawks as the clock expired.
The defense, which has been the biggest problem all season, was improved during the week. The Kings entered the game with a winning record and have one of the league’s better offenses, yet the Lakers held them to 86 points, the first time all year they held an opponent to under 100 points.
Josh Hart had another good week defensively, and Kyle Kuzma had some strong moments on that end of the floor as well. Kuzma is much maligned for his defense — sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly — but to anyone who watches closely, it is obvious that he came into the season determined to improve. He is getting better and working hard at it.
Against the Timberwolves, four Lakers players finished with 20 or more points: James, Kuzma, Hart and Brandon Ingram. It was the kind of balanced scoring the Lakers hope to achieve regularly.
The team also finished with a season-high 15 3-pointers made, led by Hart with five and Kuzma with four, which was crucial because the Timberwolves had a franchise-record 20 3-pointers that night.
JaVale McGee enjoyed another strong week. In the game with the Timberwolves, he played solid defense but it was the first time this season when he did not record a block. He bounced back with impressive blocks against the Kings and Hawks.
As for the rest of the team, several players had good moments although they were sporadic.
It was good to see Lance Stephenson have a bounce-back game against the Kings, since he had been struggling and his playing time had dropped. Stephenson hit two big three-point shots in the third quarter that were important in stopping the Kings’ momentum after it had shifted in their favor. He did the same thing in the fourth quarter of the Hawks game.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope lost his starting role after a poor start to the season, but he did not go into a funk. This past week he started to look more comfortable coming off the bench and knocked down some important three-point shots.
Lonzo Ball had good moments defensively and made some great passes, but a trend emerged when in each of the three games, he did not play much or at all in the fourth quarter. While Ball still started each game, his playing time was diminished.
Hart was the Lakers best three-point shooter this week, which was instrumental on a team that does not feature many long distance shooters. James noticeably improved his three-point shooting, although he also showed a tendency at times to settle for throwing up very long,low percentage shots.
Kuzma had his best three point shooting game of the year against the Timberwolves, when he made 4-of-7.
In a week in which the Lakers won all three of their games, the biggest positive aside from James was the continued play of McGee and the addition of Chandler, which has the potential to turn the season around.
What Went Wrong
Although the Lakers did not lose this past week, that does not mean everything was positive.
Turnovers were a huge problem. Against the Hawks, the Lakers had 15 turnovers in the first half alone. James, Stephenson, Ingram and Rajan Rondo were especially sloppy with the ball.
The problem was never more evident than in the game against Sacramento. The Lakers had a 20-point lead and it looked like it would be an easy win. Suddenly, they had two consecutive sloppy turnovers resulting in high-flying dunks for the Kings, which rallied the crowd.
It turned the entire game around and a few minutes later the Kings had nearly evened the score behind impressive shooting by De’Aaron Fox, and what should have been a laugher of a game turned much more competitive.
Missed free throws were also a big problem. Against the Kings the Lakers made only 7-of-17 attempts. Against the Hawks, James was bailed out by an offensive rebound from Kuzma and a last-second block from Chandler after missing two free throws with the game on the line, as James did against San Antonio earlier this season.
Another problem resurfaced against the Hawks that has plagued the Lakers this season: a complete meltdown in the fourth quarter and squandered a 15-point lead. Everyone stood around the last four minutes, watching James go one-on-one, and it was ugly.
There is no way to sugar coat the fact that Ingram had a poor week, especially against the Kings and Hawks. Typical was the 10 points and 6 turnovers he had against Atlanta. Now in his third NBA season, Ingram is being counted on to be the second-best player on the team and a consistent 20 points-per-game scorer, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Ingram appears to have all the confidence in the world, and he certainly is aggressive, but he has developed a bad habit of dribbling too much, letting the shot clock run down, and then losing the ball or throwing up a wild shot.
The situation with Ball continues to be an uneasy one. The way that point guard minutes have been divided with Rondo, and the fact that James has the ball in his hands much of the time, forces Ball to play off-ball and undermines his opportunity to do what he does best.
While Rondo has closed games, the irony is that Ball is the better player. He is much better defensively and moves the basketball far better than Rondo who tends to over-dribble while using up most of the shot clock.
Neither one offers much scoring-wise, but Ball is far more likely to hit a key three-point shot at a big moment which he did a couple times this past week, especially against Atlanta.
Rondo played a lot but did not have a great week. He is fine coming off the bench and playing 18-20 minutes a night, but this week he mostly played “starters minutes” and finished the games except against the Hawks when neither he nor Ball was on the court.
Part of the Lakers problem in fourth quarters is that the ball stops moving while James and Rondo use up the shot clock with incessant dribbling.
In the end, it was a successful week with the good outweighing the bad. Ingram has not emerged as a strong second option, and Kuzma has not shown the three-point shooting prowess he did for most of last year, which are problems.
As a result, the Lakers were doing it by committee this week with James leading the way and different players stepping up each night, which has started to look like a successful formula.