Although expectations vastly changed for the Los Angeles Lakers when they signed LeBron James, the organization as a whole stressed the need for patience this season. Even with James in the fold, the Lakers would need to develop chemistry with their remade roster.
That challenge figured to be all the more difficult as the scheduled called for several games with teams that were in the playoffs last season or expected to be in the picture during the 2018-19 campaign. As such, the Lakers got off to a 2-5 start.
It led to president of basketball operations Magic Johnson criticizing head coach Luke Walton in a meeting, though over the team’s lack of identity on offense more so than their record. That was followed by back-to-back wins.
Then came a loss to the Toronto Raptors in which the Lakers faced their worst first-quarter deficit in the shot clock era. Through 10 games, they were 4-6 and very much experiencing growing pains.
Their struggles were largely on defense and that wound up being solved in some regard with Tyson Chandler getting bought out by the Phoenix Suns and signing with the Lakers. His arrival coincided with a four-game winning streak.
It was the basis of the Lakers going 7-3 over their next 10 games, which head coach Luke Walton believes came with improvement. “We did our 10-game breakdown and where we were, defensively mainly, for the first 10 and where we are now, it’s gotten a lot better,” he said after practice.
“It’s a good way to kind of measure what we’re doing and where we’re going to. The numbers we have, we need to be consistent with them and continue to value those things as the season goes. Our offensive numbers have dropped. We were top-five offense in the first 10, now we’ve gone in the top-five defense. Now we kind of have to level that out a little bit in these next 10.”
Through 20 games, the Lakers are ranked No. 2 in both fastbreak points (20.1) and points in the paint per game (56.4) and No. 5 in pace.
Defensively, their 111.5 defensive rating through the first 10 games of the season ranked 23rd in the league. Over the last 10 games they’ve limited opponents to 104.2 points per 100 possessions, which amounts to the fifth-best defensive rating.
Overall this season, the Lakers boast the 14th-rated defense.
Their recent slide on offense can in some part be attributed to losing Rajon Rondo to a broken hand. The team is no longer playing at the same break-neck pace, which is accentuating half-court offense issues that were already present.
And while the Lakers went 7-3 in their latest 10-game stretch, it concluded with consecutive losses. As they begin another period of games that will be analyzed in its own vacuum, it’s with four consecutive games at Staples Center, which Walton hopes the Lakers capitalize.