Josh Hart drives against the Portland Trail Blazers on Oct. 18, 2018.
(Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Lakers)

Pace and ... Boards

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

Last season, the Lakers led the NBA in pace for much of the year before ultimately finishing third just behind New Orleans (101.6 possessions per game) and Phoenix (101.27) at 100.97.

Luke Walton was very consistent throughout the preseason in emphasizing that his team would run just as much this season. Even though LeBron James excels in the half court and has never finished the season on a Top 10 pace team, Walton and his staff know how devastating LeBron is in transition and think they have the kind of athletes to support him.

On Thursday night in Portland, the Lakers were absolutely flying up and down the court, pushing what turned out to be 227 total possessions in L.A.’s 128-119 loss. Divide that number by two, and you get a pace of 113.5.

“I thought we really, we had a good thing going,” he said after the game. “We had 70 points in the paint, something like that, 39 fast break points around there.”

The actual number was 34, but it seemed like 39. To put it in perspective, the Warriors led the NBA last year with 18.8 fastbreak points per game, while the Lakers were second at 17.5.

For Lonzo Ball, it’s pretty simple.

“We are just faster than a lot of teams,” he said. “So when we get out, not that many teams can stay with us.”

But there’s a catch, or a lack thereof, in terms of rebounding the basketball. L.A. had a boards deficit of 54-46, including a 14-8 margin in Portland’s favor on the offensive glass, which produced a 21-10 differential in second chance points.

“We kept giving up more opportunities, that’s what I kept stressing to our guys,” Walton added. “We would get the stop, and then we’d start leaking out instead of coming in and rebounding, so we left some on the table.”

The boarding problems sometimes came from wings leaking out too early to get in transition, and sometimes from just failing to box out, as happened to Brandon Ingram - who did plenty of other things well - late in the first quarter.

The players like playing fast, too, but are still figuring out how to do it without giving things up on the other end.

“Great pace, we like playing at that pace,” said Josh Hart, who was terrific with 20 points and three steals off the bench. “The defense we have to work on, you know we gave up 25-30. You know it’s a good team just a tough place to play. We’ve got to work on the defensive end of the ball.”

Hart followed up that comment at Monday’s practice by emphasizing that L.A. has to first “pursue the basketball,” and not just leak out at first thought.

I asked Walton how he can emphasize both the running game and securing rebounds.

“You drill it, you show a lot of it in the film room,” he responded. “The thing about us, we have guys that are really good at the throw ahead pass, but we don’t need to leak out. We’re a really good running team as a unit. If we’re coming at you four, five deep, we call it attacking in a wave, we’re going to score. Or at least we’re going to get in the paint and get a good look. So we don’t need the leak outs. We keep drilling – every time a shot goes up, everyone comes back into the paint and then as a group, we run out.”

It worked for much of the game against the Blazers. The pace really flummoxed them early, though they adjusted in the second half, thanks in part to some rim protection from reserve big Zach Collins (five of six blocks in the second half) that discouraged all the easy buckets that had been coming.

”Defensively, the Lakers pose a lot of problems, their speed, the way they space the floor, playing a lot of perimeter players,” said Stotts. “I thought we did a much better job defensively in the second half keeping them out of the paint. The first half that was tough in the first half, it was like a layup line. We kind of figured it out a little bit better in the second half.”

After the contest, LeBron James placed the pace discussion under a bigger umbrella, noting that L.A. have plenty of things to figure out. As was to be expected.

“It’s going to take patience from our team, from all of us, to figure out one another and to figure out what we’re good at as a team and what we’re not so good at and how we can be better at it,” he said. “It was a good first test for us to be in a building where [the Blazers] haven’t lost a home opener since 2000.

“Having chemistry doesn’t happen as fast as you guys think it’s going to happen, it’s not like instant oatmeal. It’s not that fast. It takes awhile for the chemistry to get to where you can close your eyes and know exactly where your guys are. That’s what we’re going to work towards, defensively and offensively. It’s going to be an everyday process for our ball club.”

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