D-Fenders First Half Season Recap

Recap by Trevor Wong | @Trevor_Wong

In two-and-a-half weeks prior to the All-Star break, the D-Fenders have played like a much different team with wins in five of their last seven games to show for it.

During that span, opponents are averaging 96.7 points (compared to 102.2 in the previous 24), while shooting 43.3 percent from the floor. Six of their last seven opponents have failed to top the century mark, while their last four have scored 95 points or less.

"We've worked very hard defensively," coach Reggie Theus said post practice on Feb. 12. "Don't give us any excuses, but last week was the first time we've had a full roster since Dec. 27. We have three new guys that are understanding and working really hard defensively. Keeping that as the emphasis for our team to hold teams under 100 points makes it easier for us on the offensive end."

Courtney Fortson
Courtney Fortson was selected as a 2013 NBA D-League All-Star.

In L.A.'s next game on Feb. 13, they held Reno to 89 points - a season-low - on 39.7 percent shooting, while six players finished in double figures.

"We've been playing very good basketball since we became a full-roster team," Theus said postgame after the D-Fenders 115-89 win. "We've been building toward a game like this. I've been waiting to see our guys play for 48 minutes and play on a level I think like they're capable of playing."

Part of L.A.'s much improved play can be attributed to its most recent additions in guards *Lazar Hayward, Morris Almond and Mike Taylor.

"All three guys are high-character guys," Theus said. "They're working hard and they're good offensive players. Lazar is very versatile, Mike plays with a tremendous amount of energy, Morris gives us a stretch two - a guy that can knock shots down from the perimeter and also take it to the hole. Just really great additions to our team."

Multiple roster changes and injuries during the first couple months of the season contributed to a lack of continuity on both ends of the floor, as the D-Fenders played through December and much of January with eight healthy bodies. L.A. had three separate four-game losing streaks, but also two three-game winning streaks, as well.

Gone are Darius Johnson-Odom, Jarrid Famous, Phil Jones and Kevin Kruger. **Jamario Moon was placed on the inactive list on Jan. 4, reactivated on Jan. 12 and placed on the inactive list again on Jan. 25. Los Angeles acquired Elijah Millsap (Dec. 12), Ronald Dupree (Jan. 4) and Zach Andrews (Jan. 15), along with Hayward, and traded for Almond and Taylor (Jan. 30). The Lakers second-round draft Robert Sacre had also been assigned and called up three times during the first couple months of the year.

At times, they had just one point guard - Courtney Fortson - playing nearly the entire 48 minutes. Yet through all of this, the main constant in the lineup had been Fortson, who has started all but one game and guided L.A. throughout the first half of the season.

The Arkansas product was selected as a 2013 NBA D-League All-Star, where he recorded 20 points and four dimes for the Futures team. He is averaging team-highs of 18.0 points and 6.4 assists, to go along with 5.3 rebounds.

"He's been our engine," Dupree said. "He's ferocious and competes. For his size, he's scrappy, he's physical and he gets the job done for us. He's been great and very productive."

Now, though, the D-Fenders have multiple ball handlers that can spell their floor general in Almond, Taylor and Hayward. The team feels as though they're turning a corner with a healthy roster and enough bodies to practice 5-on-5. It's still a process, the players say, but the improved play has been evident.

"We have depth at every position," Dupree said. "I feel our second unit is just as good as our first unit. We're talented and we have a great group of guys. Hopefully each game we can continue to get better and better, and hopefully make a run."

Currently, the D-Fenders sit at 12-17, third in the West Division and four games out of the final playoff spot. Twenty-one games remain in the regular season (11 away, 10 home), but 14 of them come against opponents .500 or better.

Bakersfield 21 9
Santa Cruz 18 11
Los Angeles 12 17
Reno 11 17
Idaho 10 18

"We need to make sure when we get back (from the break), we have to be focused," Hayward said. "We have to be focused so we can make a run to better ourselves for the playoffs."

*NOTE: On Dec. 30, 2012, the D-Fenders acquired Hayward, but before he could suit up, he was called up from the D-League by the Minnesota Timberwolves and signed an NBA contract. The Wolves waived Hayward on Jan. 6, one day before NBA contracts would have been guaranteed for the rest of the year. Two days later, he signed a 10-day contract, and then was subsequently waived again. Because Los Angeles still owned his rights, Hayward returned to the D-Fenders on Jan. 28.

**NOTE: There is no limitation on the number of times a player can be moved back and forth between the active roster and inactive list. Because he was deactivated for more than a week (Jan. 4 - Jan. 11) due to personal reasons, Moon was activated on Jan. 12 for a minimum of three straight games, rather than waived outright as stated in the NBA Developmental League Operations Manual.