Lakers take pride in defensive strides since trade deadline

Lakers take pride in defensive strides since trade deadline

LOS ANGELES — In the heliocentric view of the Lakers, adding a former All-Star like D’Angelo Russell to LeBron James and Anthony Davis felt like a recipe for finding consistent success.

Only one of those three has played consistently in the 10-game stretch since the trade deadline, but the Lakers still found success with a 7-3 record.

The answer wasn’t star power; it was defense.

Entering Friday night’s game against Toronto, the Lakers had the distinguished honor of a 107.6 defensive rating, the best mark in the NBA since the trade deadline. Anthony Davis mentioned the stat with pride on Tuesday night after the Lakers secured a win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

“That’s where we’re getting it done,” he said, “on the defensive end.”

It was the goal Coach Darvin Ham set at the outset, and the Lakers opened the season with a top-five defense which the team took to mean that they would turn around after a 2-10 start. But a drop-off followed, as the Lakers’ lack of size and length came back to bite them, and Davis’ midseason injury removed the central pillar of their defense.

The Lakers’ season-long defensive rating is 113.3, good for 12th-best in the league. But the improvement in the last few weeks has felt appreciable, a factor the Lakers have been able to lean on without James or Russell in the lineup.

One key pairing the team has pointed to: Davis alongside Jarred Vanderbilt, whose 6-foot-9 height and 7-foot-1 wingspan has helped stymie wings and forwards including Luka Doncic in Dallas. Davis and Vanderbilt can both guard on the perimeter or in the post, they can switch for each other, and having a vocal leader behind him like Davis is a luxury Vanderbilt said he’s starting to get used to.

“Him being able to communicate but also to be able to react, that’s what makes him so unique,” Vanderbilt said. “He can do both. He can talk and he can react, too. For me being on the perimeter, having a guy like A.D. behind me, I can be a lot more aggressive, knowing that I have a second line of defense.”

The results have been wildly encouraging: Stat site Cleaning the Glass gives the Lakers a 100.7 defensive rating in their minutes together, making them one of the most stifling forward combinations in the league.

Ham added that Dennis Schröder, Troy Brown Jr. and Austin Reaves have also been some of the Lakers’ most consistent players at putting pressure on the perimeter – and have helped contribute to the bristling energy on the defensive end. He credited the newcomers for learning his scheme on the fly, which he and his coaching staff have tried to keep fairly basic.

“The things we work on, again, it’s detailed but yet it’s comprehensive,” he said. “It’s simple in nature. They don’t have to stand out there thinking. We don’t have 13 different coverages for 13 different offensive scenarios to try to guard. So, it allows them to be competitive and just use their instincts in a lot of moments. But knowing that everybody is going to know where they’re supposed to be and to provide that support as a five-man unit, not as individual defenders. So, they’ve bought in really well to what we’re throwing at them.”