Coming off a 2-1 road trip and Thanksgiving holiday, the Los Angeles Lakers were hardly at their best Friday night against the Utah Jazz. The registered a season-low 10 assists which was compounded by 24 turnovers, their most thus far in the 2018-19 campaign.
Yet, the Lakers held off a struggling Jazz team to notch a third consecutive victory. The Lakers have now won eight of their past 11 games and began Saturday one game back of first place in a competitive Western Conference.
Aside from turnovers, both the Lakers and Jazz had their share of struggles when getting shot attempts. That L.A. was able to grind out a win was directly related to their defense.
“Not a pretty win but we won with our defense. We talked before the game, our first home game back from a road trip is always difficult,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said.
“All I asked is for our guys to bring the energy and effort to get that crowd going. I thought we did a really good job of playing with a competitive spirit and fighting on the defensive end. I thought Lonzo was great again as far as attacking the paint and defensive rebounds. That’s the guy that helps you win a lot of ballgames.
“I thought Kuzma’s defense on Ingles was very impressive. He was hounding him all over the court. He doesn’t normally guard those type of players but I thought Kuzma did a very nice job on defense. Brandon had a pretty solid all-around game, and LeBron was great down the stretch for us again.”
Kyle Kuzma had a slow start offensively, which of course flies in the face of his reputation. One explanation could be that Kuzma was tasked with defending Joe Ingles, who became more of a facilitator for the Jazz after Donovan Mitchell didn’t return because of a rib contusion.
“I mean, Joe is probably the key to their offense. He gets guys involved, getting to the paint a lot. I just tried to take the challenge on and try to make it tough for him,” Kuzma said.
LeBron James described the Lakers’ offense and their 10 assists as “horrible.” He too recognized what was largely responsible for the win. “The best thing about it, when we were turning the ball over, we still held them in the halfcourt. We did a number on them in the halfcourt defensively,” James said.
“But we’re not going to win many games like that. You turn the ball over 24 times and only have 10 assists. At the end of the day, when you’re not playing well, you still can’t let that deter you from getting stops. That’s sign of a team that’s growing.”
Brandon Ingram was at a loss for words when asked about the team’s offensive woes. “But we picked up on the defensive end. That’s what we have to do in games like that,” he added.
After struggling on defense to begin the season, the Lakers have been markedly improved in that area since Tyson Chandler made his debut with the team. They had a Defensive Rating of 110.2 (23rd overall) prior to his arrival, and the fourth-best Defensive Rating at 100.8 since.
Though, Walton credited the entire roster for strides made on that end of the court. “You have to want it, you have to be willing to work, and our guys do that,” he said.
“Then it’s about just getting reps. You’ve just got to work hard at it, and our guys do that. Whether it’s at shootaround and we’re doing a defensive drill or if it’s during practice. We’ve got guys who have made a commitment to themselves and our group, what they want to be defensively this year.”