Lakers Aim to Shore Up Defense

Julius Randle didn’t hold back on the factor behind the Lakers’ 118-110 loss to Chicago on Sunday night.

“We didn’t guard anybody tonight and that’s a big reason why we lost the game,” he said after the game.

Head coach Luke Walton was happy to hear that his players are taking ownership of the defensive deficiency considering that the Lakers are allowing opponents to average 109.6 points on a league-high 47.5 percentage from the field.

Specifically, Larry Nance Jr. suggested that he and Tarik Black might need to focus more on shot-blocking, as the Lakers are tallying an NBA-low 3.8 swats per game.

“I’m glad he said that because it shows he’s not complacent — that he feels like he can grow,” Black said at Monday’s practice. “Honestly, (he’s) taking ownership on himself, saying that (he) can do something. How often do you hear that? Most guys, when the team team is down, say, ‘We need to…’ or ‘They need to…’”

For Walton, the defense isn’t so much an epidemic as it is a series of correctable errors.

He applauded some of the shots that Chicago’s Jimmy Butler (40 points) made while covered by some locked-in Los Angeles defense on Sunday, but also put some blame on his team for making mistakes when fatigued.

It’s not often a matter of the entire defense breaking down, Walton claimed, but more so that one or two players will fail to communicate or miss a rotation.

“We’re playing well enough to win games, but we’re not giving ourselves a lot of outs with the silly mistakes we’re making,” Walton said.

Missed rotations can be lethal, especially against Butler and some of the league’s other elite wings and slashers (see below).

Lakers vs. All-Star Caliber Wings

PlayerResultPointsField GoalsFreeThrowsAlso
James Harden (Oct. 26)W 120-114 vs. HOU349/1915/1617 ast
Russell Westbrook (Oct. 30)L 113-96 at OKC2211/216/611 reb, 16 ast
Paul George (Nov. 1)L 115-108 at IND308/1612/127 reb, 4 stl
Kevin Durant (Nov. 4)W 117-97 vs. GSW2710/165/8
Devin Booker (Nov. 6)W 119-108 vs. PHX3913/2910/107 ast
Harrison Barnes (Nov. 8)L 109-97 vs. DAL3111/188/9
Andrew Wiggins (Nov. 13)L 125-99 at MIN4714/2117/22
Kawhi Leonard (Nov. 18)L 116-107237/157/812 reb, 7 ast
Jimmy Butler (Nov. 20)L 118-110 vs. CHI4014/2312/147 reb, 6 ast

Protecting the key will be a huge step for the Lakers, who ware allowing a league-high 49.9 points in the paint.

This area has been exploited by the likes of Russell Westbrook — who had a triple-double in his first meeting with L.A. on Oct. 30 and will face the Lakers again on Tuesday.

Westbrook can destroy pretty much any defense, as evidenced by the fact that he is averaging a triple-double and ranks second in the NBA in both scoring (31.6 ppg) and assists (10.4 apg). And he is also so explosive driving to the hoop that it opens up easy layups and dunks for bigs like Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, which Oklahoma City will surely look to create against the Lakers, who allow the league’s highest field goal percentage at the rim (56.7).

But if L.A. can get its perimeter defenders and rim protectors working in cohesion, more wins will follow given how successful the offense has been.

The Lakers — who were last in the NBA in scoring last season (97.3) — are now racking up the league’s second-most points (109.8), so a few more stops can pay dividends.

“Offensively we’re fine,” Walton said. “We scored 110 against one of the best defensive teams in the league last night.”

Injury Report
Walton said that D’Angelo Russell (sore left knee) is “technically questionable” for Tuesday’s game against Oklahoma City. According to the head coach, Russell felt OK at Monday's practice but did not participate.

Walton did concede that Russell appeared to be favoring his other knee in Sunday’s contest and that he appeared content shooting from the perimeter instead of driving through the defense.

He said that the team would have Russell sit out until healthy if he feels that the point guard isn’t playing to full strength.

“This league’s too good to only go halfway and only show some of the stuff that you can do because you’re concerned that something might hurt,” Walton said.

Walton also relayed that reserve center Ivica Zubac was back to practicing after missing Sunday’s game to an ankle injury.