As the old cliche says, defense wins championships. While that may be true to some extent, it’s also harder to get players to buy in on that side of the floor. It’s fun to score, but playing defense is much more dull; a dunk will get you on ESPN, but most fans won’t even a subtle ball-denial or pass deflection. LeBron James, however, isn’t concerned about fun.
While everyone knows about James’ offensive potential, the forward has been making more an effort on defense this season. He cited one key factor as the driving force behind his improvement.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ team defense
While the Los Angeles Lakers will forever be associated with freewheeling, Showtime offense, the current team has plenty of steel on the defensive end of the floor.
Through their first six games of the season, the Lakers have the NBA’s best defensive rating. They’re a top-10 team in defensive rebounding and opposition points in the paint; they also lead the league in blocks.
A great deal of that success comes from Anthony Davis and the resurgent Dwight Howard patrolling the paint, but their defensive improvement has truly been a team effort. Head coach Frank Vogel has preached the importance of working hard at both ends of the floor, and everyone is buying in.
“We understand that if we play defense, we’re very hard to beat. Obviously, we still have a lot to work on offensively, but we try to make sure that we strive on defense every game, and if we’re able to do that, then we’re a tough team to beat,” Davis explained. “We try to lay our hats down on defense… We want to be the best defensive team in the league.”
LeBron James’ defensive improvement
While it would be easy for LeBron James to rest on his laurels and simply lead the Lakers offense, that hasn’t been the case this season. According to ESPN Stats and Info, the forward has actually been stepping up his defensive game, contesting more shots and keeping his man further from the basket than he did in previous years.
So what’s the difference this season? LeBron says that he’s simply healthy enough to push himself to a higher level each and every night.
I’m playing injury-free. I’m not injured. My quick-twitch is back. My speed is back, my strength is back,” James told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. Playing with a torn groin last year — even when I came back, it was still partially torn — it was difficult to be able to move and shift like I’m capable of doing that defensively.”
“I put a lot of hard work into my offseason by getting my quick twitch, getting my bounce back, getting my speed back, my reaction time back,” he continued. “My mind has always been there. That’s what it’s all about.”
Can defense win the Lakers a championship?
With the Golden State Warriors currently in disarray, the Lakers will be hoping to prove the cliche true and ride their defensive effort to a championship. To claim the Larry O’Brien Trophy, however, LeBron James and company will still have to beat some talented teams.
538 currently lists the Houston Rockets, led by James Harden and Russell Westbrook, as the championship favorite; they’re trailed by Clippers, 76ers, Bucks, Nuggets, and Lakers in that order.
With LeBron James and Anthony Davis developing an on-court rapport, however, the Lakers certainly have plenty of offensive potential; all of the elite NBA teams, though, boast multiple scoring threats. If the Lakers’ defense can keep playing at a high level, though, that could take them to the next level.