The Los Angeles Lakers lost their ninth game in a row Friday night, falling to the Charlotte Hornets, 108-94, as the team’s defensive metrics continue to careen off of a cliff, something Lakers head coach Luke Walton is focused on fixing.
“I think the biggest difference right now, and the past week or so, two weeks, has been our defense,” Walton said following the loss. “We let the fact that we missed shots early in the game impact our energy.
“Early in the year, if we had off-shooting nights, like we’ve had a lot of, we were still right in ballgames because we were defending our tails off. The biggest thing we need to get back to is playing defense like that.”
Rookie point guard Lonzo Ball agreed with his coach’s diagnosis of the Lakers’ problems. “We just weren’t making shots and I think that affected our defense,” Ball said. “Third quarter, we came out strong, we just couldn’t get stops.”
The Lakers aren’t too far removed from playing defense of the kind Walton and Ball are longing for. They ranked eighth in the league in defensive rating heading into December before a brutal month-plus stretch that has seen them drop all the way to 15th in the league, allowing 105.9 points per 100 possessions.
Rookie guard Josh Hart believes if the Lakers want to get back to the former level of defense, it should be an easy enough fix. “We’ve just got to play with more effort. We have to play with more toughness, more grit, more heart,” Hart said.
“That’s the bottom line. We’ve got to help each other out, we’ve got to put out fires. That’s something that we did.”
The Lakers haven’t been putting out those fires recently, and it’s led to a skid that is threatening to tie the longest losing streak in franchise history if they can’t end their futility Sunday when they host the Atlanta Hawks.
Walton said that the Lakers getting players back to being healthy will help them fix their defensive struggles.
“I think that right now is more one of those times it’s a mental challenge than anything else. People are tired, we’re playing guys big minutes, we’re asking a lot of some very young players, and then we’re asking a lot of some vets,” Walton said.
“As far as getting back to where we were, I think it’s mentally fighting through the fatigue and the losing that we have going on right now.”
Whatever it takes, Walton remains committed to helping the Lakers again becoming a solid defensive team. “The defense, we are going to get back to,” Walton said.
“As much as we’re trying to get lineups together and get guys experience and find groups that are working, we’re going to get back to being a good defensive team no matter what it takes.”
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