This is a weekly article where I give the Lakers grades for the games played in that week. This entry will be for games 18 and 19.
The Lakers had their second of three 2-games weeks this season. They lost a close one at home against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday and then came back in the fourth to win in Sacramento against the Kings. The following are my grades for the Lakers’ performance as a team, as well as for a couple of key players.
The offense continued to improve this week as they are now averaging 101.3 on the season, up from 100.6 as of last week. They moved up from 14th to 13th in the league.
The beautiful thing about this team’s offense is that anybody can get hot on a given night. Xavier Henry scored 27 against the Blazers and Jodie Meeks added 20. Then, against the Kings, Pau Gasol and Meeks both contributed 19. Even when Kobe comes back and adds a consistent scoring option, the same trend should continue.
This is because Mike D’Antoni’s offense makes everyone on the floor a potential threat. When four out of the five players on the court can shoot threes, four out of the five players will shoot threes. It’s all a matter of who is hot on a certain night. In addition, players like Nick Young and Xavier, and even Meeks can create their own shots out of a pump fake from the three point line, so if the three isn’t falling they can still score.
With Jordan Farmar leaving the game early in the game against Portland, Xavier took the reigns for the bench mob and did a decent job. He’s far from being a capable backup point guard, but at least he got the ball moving, and did a solid job of creating penetration off of dribble-drives. With Farmar out for another 3 weeks or so, it’s possible we could see a weird sort of 3-man PG rotation with Steve Blake, Xavier Henry and Kobe Bryant taking turns handling the ball.
My favorite aspect about the Laker offense this year is that the ball rarely stays in the same place for more than a few seconds. Aside from Pau’s post-ups, there is always some sort of ball movement. Whether it’s passing, driving to the basket or a Swaggy isolation, something is always happening with the ball. Last year was quite the opposite, and it often put the Lakers in offensive slumps, so it’s great to see that this year’s team no longer holds the ball.
Overall, the Lakers offense has been solid. They didn’t have a single quarter under 24-points this week – that’s consistency. Even Nick Young, who has a reputation of being inconsistent, is putting up double digits without fail every single night. This week he put up 17 and 14. Imagine how much more efficient he’ll be when he learns from Kobe in practice every day. The Lakers have even cut down turnovers, committing only 9 vs Portland and 12 vs Sacramento. It can only get better with Kobe’s return on Sunday.
The Lakers are allowing 102.8 points per game, slightly up from 102.3 as of last week. They are now 27th in the league, down from 25th as of last week.
Wesley Johnson and Nick Young. I’ve said it just about every week and I’ll continue to say it until they get some more recognition. Wesley Johnson and Nick Young are clutch defenders. Against the Blazers, Wes had 3 blocks – one of which was a late-game two-handed beauty on a Damian Lillard layup – and Young had 2 steals. Against the Kings, Wes had 5 steals – a couple in the clutch – and 1 block, which again was a late-game stuff of a layup – this time by Isaiah Thomas. Young had 2 steals and a block and his block came late in the game to force a 24-second violation to help turn the tide of the game.
My grades for the Lakers’ defense recently have been admittedly high. That’s because my most recent memory at the time I write these articles is always the Lakers’ fourth quarter defense. Last week, it was their clutch defense against the Pistons that made me forget about the fact that they gave up 76 points in the paint in the same game. This week, it would be the Lakers holding Sacramento to 13 points in the fourth quarter after a combined 87 in the first three. I might even forget about the Blazers putting up a 41-point 3rd quarter last Sunday night. I won’t forget it, but I won’t make it into as big of a deal as it seems.
See, the important thing about this team’s defense is they can REALLY turn it on whenever they want. All the great defensive teams can do so. Think about the Heat over the last couple years. I personally don’t like the Heat, but I cannot help but respect what they do on defense. What makes them special is they can be down by 15 or 20 in the third quarter and win the game consistently. Say what you will about LeBron’s impact on the offensive end and how their comebacks are because of him, but you can’t score that many more points against an opponent in one or even two quarters without getting a LOT of stops. That is what the Lakers have been doing. They came back from a 17 point deficit in the first half against the Blazers and then a 20 point deficit in the second half and almost won the game. They were down by 10 with one minute left in the third against the Kings and ended up winning by 6 (would have been 9 if not for an irrelevant three by Ben McLemore with 6 seconds left.
So what is it about the Heat and Lakers that allows them to do this? Sure they have to score a lot, but it’s their defensive grit that is key. Both teams ramp up their forced turnovers and from that they get easy fast-break points – the best way to score a lot in a short amount of time. A perfect example of this was against Portland. Wesley Johnson blocks Lillard’s layup attempt and within 5 seconds, Meeks has already made a layup on the other side of the floor. The Lakers are consistently getting these plays late in the game.
But they are still 27th in the league and giving up almost 103 points per game. If they are such a great defensive team, what gives? As I have said in the past, defense = effort. The Lakers have a bad habit of not giving enough effort for 48 minutes. They have been lucky to do so against reeling teams like the Kings and the Nets, but against dominant teams like Portland, it just wont cut it. You can’t give up 41 points in the third quarter and expect to win. And yet they almost did.
If this team can find it in them to play inspired defense for anywhere close to 48 minutes, you can expect them to win. They have the talent, length and athleticism to be an elite defensive squad; they simply need to put forth the effort to do so. So, this week I’m giving them two grades. One for their fourth-quarter defense and one for the other 36 minutes.