The Los Angeles Lakers are beginning to find their stride, pushing their way above the .500 mark. The Lakers have experienced a progressive shift forward as the team continues to find its identity. It finally features Los Angeles practicing what it preached concerning star big man Anthony Davis.
Lakers continue upward trend after slow start
The start to the season hasn’t exactly played out how the Lakers hoped, but the team is beginning to trend upward.
Since dropping their first two games, Los Angeles has scrapped out wins in four out of the last five contests. The only slip-up featured squandering a 26-point lead against the Oklahoma City Thunder. They are currently in the sixth spot, at a 4-3 mark, sitting 1.5 games out of the top spot.
The Lakers guided their way to a second straight win on Sunday against the Rockets behind a strong showing defensively. It was an effort that was headlined by the Lakers finally doing what they said they would be weeks before the season opener.
Lakers are finally practicing what they preached and reaping the significant benefits with Anthony Davis
It took seven games, but head coach Frank Vogel finally turned to play Davis at center.
With Dwight Howard missing Sunday’s contest due to neck soreness, the Lakers shifted the lineup combination to Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley, Kent Bazemore, LeBron James, and Davis. Although it’s only a small sample size, Los Angeles held a plus-8 in 31 minutes with Davis playing center against the Rockets.
Vogel voiced after Sundays’ win that the team was exploring that lineup flexibility with 28-year-old manning the middle.
“We decided yesterday,” Vogel said via Jovan Buha of The Athletic. “We’ve been talking about certain points in the season to explore our roster flexibility. And the way Houston plays, it seemed like an opportunity to look at that.
“I also liked the way we finished the fourth quarter against Cleveland having Baze and Avery out there guarding the other team’s two best perimeter players and AD at the five. Just something we wanted to look at as a starting group. One of those guys would be the backup center, either DJ or Dwight.”
The lineup alteration came about due to the Rockets lacking frontcourt size, but it demonstrated that Los Angeles could excel with Davis anchoring the effort. His versatility makes him a mismatch for opposing centers due to his speed and skill set.
Meanwhile, the traditional lineup leaves DeAndre Jordan, whose offensive skill set is limited to essentially lobs, as a target on both ends of the floor. According to Basketball-Reference, the starting group featuring Jordan holds a -15.7 points rating per 100 possessions in just over 47 minutes together.
The Lakers preached playing Davis more at center, and it’s a lineup that the team will explore further.
Ultimate success will come through defense
Los Angeles holds plenty of proven talent across the roster that can provide scoring.
However, the Lakers‘ bread and butter under Vogel has been their defense. It’s been the separating factor that’s led the team to success. The Rockets may not have been a high-quality opponent, but Los Angeles flexed their defensive muscle.
They held Houston a season-best 85 points, including 20 or fewer points in each of the first three quarters. The Lakers stifled the Rockets by forcing 27 turnovers while limiting them to 21.4% shooting from beyond the arc. It may be only one game, but it’s a definite stride in the right direction.
“It definitely felt like Lakers basketball tonight,” James said. “Defensively, it’s what Frank has been preaching. We know he’s always on us about defense and about protecting the rim. Not having turnovers and being efficient. Sharing the ball and moving the ball. Tonight was a great game for us and we got to do it again Tuesday.”
The Lakers must find cohesion with their roster offensively, but the true grit of their championship chances will lie in their play defensively. Sunday’s performance may provide the jumping-off point to showcase what they are capable of on a nightly basis.